- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:


Nov. 28

The Miami Herald on the death of Fidel Castro:

Four days after Fidel Castro’s death, Miami’s Cuban-exile community is expectantly preparing for what new reality will emerge for their homeland.

Ding dong the witch is dead. What now?

One thing is true, leaders of Miami’s historic exiles, the older generation whose lives were personally derailed by Castro, are feeling emboldened by the prospect of what comes next in U.S.-Cuba relations.

And Cubans on the island have good reason to look ahead to being rid of just one more Castro, namely Raúl, who said he would leave the president’s post in 2018.

What a difference a U.S. presidential election and the death of a dictator - within 17 days of each other - make. Castro’s demise and the election of Donald Trump have definitely altered the horizon.

Almost two years ago, many of these same exiles were dejected. President Obama had engineered a thaw in the U.S. relationship with Cuba, without really winning any human-rights concessions from Raúl Castro, who at a press conference even denied the existence of political prisoners.

Last year, they somberly watched the reopening of the U.S. Embassy in Havana. This year, they saw President Obama’s visit during which he chided the Cuban president and later attended a baseball game.

Back then, this Editorial Board wrote that these Miami exiles long battle with Fidel Castro should be acknowledged, not dismissed.

As recently as Nov. 7, the day before Mr. Trump was elected, normalization between the two countries seemed bound for expansion, even the end of the embargo seemed possible. Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, the expected winner, revealed no sign of undoing President Obama’s historic move at extending an olive branch to Cuba, an enemy since the 1950s. That was going to be a cornerstone of his legacy, and Ms. Clinton would protect it.

But 24 hours later, Mr. Trump was the president-elect and, suddenly, the deal between the United States and Cuba could be up from renegotiation.

Now, Castro’s death gives Miami exiles an emotional boost they have not experienced since they tackled and lost to Castro over Elián Gonzalez more than 16 years ago.

With the most enduring symbol of the Cuban Revolution gone and an incoming president who says he will play hardball, some exiles are feeling giddy. Over the weekend, they announced a massive demonstration in front of the Bay of Pigs monument in Little Havana on Wednesday - just like in the old days.

And on Monday, Mr. Trump gave them even more hope, tweeting that he wants a mulligan in negotiations with Cuba - or he’ll pull the plug on the entire endeavor. That would be lamentable. It’s true that Cuba must agree to loosen its grip on Cubans, but the opening of relations between the two countries should not be narrowed again. Cubans on the island stand to bear the brunt of any such action, as they always have. Yes, Raúl Castro needs to play ball. But as we said in Monday’s editorial, it should be up to Cubans to demand that he make the pitch directly to them.

On this side of the Florida Straits, Miami’s older Cubans can turn their passion to be rid of Fidel to supporting the wishes of Cubans still in the belly of the weakening beast. Plus, they’ve already won - Fidel Castro is gone.




Nov. 25

The Tampa Bay Times on Florida’s water usage:

Turn on the tap - it’s there. But unless Florida makes smarter use of its water, communities may face serious shortages, the loss of farmland and a slowdown in growth that could upend the state’s economy. That outlook, from a new report on Florida’s long-term water needs, should be a wake-up call for leaders and residents alike to plan for a more sustainable future.

The demand for water already is so intense that cities and counties have undertaken hugely expensive water development projects in recent years, with the Tampa Bay area building a regional reservoir and a seawater desalination plant. Utilities and government agencies also have encouraged residents to conserve by raising prices for water hogs and distributing low-flow nozzles and rain barrels. Though every gallon counts, the findings of a new study undertaken by the University of Florida, the Florida Department of Agriculture and the nonprofit planning group 1000 Friends of Florida show a need for more aggressive planning and conservation efforts.

With Florida’s population estimated to reach 34 million by 2070, the report projects that demand for water could increase by 50 percent, to about 8 billion gallons per day. With tougher conservation and development rules, that could drop to about 6.8 billion gallons, and the state could save more farms and ranches in the process. But given the existing water shortages in some areas of Florida, the authors concluded, even the more modest demands “are clearly not sustainable.”

New development will be the biggest driver of increased water consumption, and the biggest impact will be in Central Florida, including the Tampa Bay area. With the highest projected population increase of all regions in Florida, Central Florida could need 3.25 billion gallons a day, up from the current 2.1 billion. Even with new conservation rules, the study predicts, the rush of new residents and sprawling suburbs will leave room for only modest savings in water. This presents a huge challenge for state and local leaders in Tampa Bay, and it underscores the need to continue to think and act regionally.

The solutions - more compact development, land use policies that discourage sprawl, better protection of natural resources and water recharge areas - will all require better planning and coordination at the state and local levels. The development community could be a partner; it has awakened to the cost savings of building more efficient and sustainable projects. The resurgence of cities as places to work, play and live also creates an opportunity to save water through smarter urban design.

The report makes a valuable contribution to the public debate over water, development and the economy. It includes commonsense ways to incorporate more effective conservation measures into everyday life. And it is a reminder of how the Florida Legislature wasted an opportunity this year by passing a state water bill that was more about developing new water resources than conserving those that already exist.

A smarter approach to water will preserve Florida’s ability to grow, maintain its agricultural base and protect its ecosystem. State and local leaders, especially in Central Florida, need to have the vision to prepare for the next generation. Individual residents, too, have an obligation to better manage their water use. Any fix requires both better strategies and better household practices.




Nov. 23

The Ledger of Lakeland on Fair Districts:

Tallahassee was abuzz Tuesday as state lawmakers held a brief session to formally anoint new leaders and lay some of the groundwork for the upcoming 2017 session. This year, this pro forma gathering might have generated more excitement than usual because of all the new faces in the Capitol. Sixty-six members of the 160-seat Legislature are new to their jobs.

The same could be said for Washington last week, when newly elected members of Congress arrived for orientation to their new workplace. Florida boasted one of the highest turnover rates that resulted from the 2016 elections, as 10 of the 27-member delegation are freshmen.

Yet little differed in the overall partisan composition among Florida lawmakers, either in Tallahassee or Washington, from the last postelection meet-and-greets. The Republicans now hold 79 seats in the Florida House, 25 in the state Senate, and 16 in the U.S. House - meaning Democrats gained two House seats, one Senate seat and one congressional seat from two years ago.

Non-Republicans might be dismayed that the elections barely made a dent in the GOP’s power. After all, 2016 was the first election held with the legislative and congressional boundaries redrawn to meet the requirements of the Fair District constitutional amendments that Florida voters overwhelmingly supported in 2010.

But one advocate for the amendments tells us she thinks they worked as designed, and we are inclined to agree.

The amendments were intended to curtail gerrymandering by forcing lawmakers to redraw districts to create “communities of interest” - primarily by ignoring the desires of parties or particular incumbents and making districts as compact as possible while following existing political and geographic boundaries. It proved more controversial than proponents may have imagined.

Two members of Congress - Republican Mario Diaz-Balart and Democrat Corrine Brown - immediately sued, claiming the amendments were unconstitutional. They lost in court. Then, the Legislature initially botched the reapportionment job in 2012, the first year the amendments were supposed to apply, inviting lawsuits from the League of Women Voters, Common Cause of Florida and other groups.

The lawsuits revealed that lawmakers had resorted to backroom chicanery involving a Republican election consultant to continue gerrymandering. As the legal wrangling continued, a judge allowed the 2014 elections to proceed even though the map had been declared unconstitutional. Last December after years of litigation, and lawmakers spending $11 million of taxpayers’ money defending the indefensible, the Florida Supreme Court approved a new congressional map. That month, the state Senate, whose map was also flawed, threw in the towel after a judge approved new boundaries drawn by the voting-rights groups.

Thus, this year all 40 Senate seats as well as all 27 congressional seats were up for grabs.

Based on the numbers, the effect of the new maps doesn’t seem readily apparent. But the amendments had an impact.

Take Congress, for example. The reconfigured districts around Orlando parceled out Democratic voters to the extent that veteran GOP Congressman Daniel Webster left his home district and pursued one that includes Gulf Coast counties, which he won. The reconfigured congressional map also helped Democratic newcomer Stephanie Murphy to oust 24-year Republican Rep. John Mica. Former Gov. Charlie Crist, a Democrat, was emboldened by the liberal shift in a Pinellas County district and challenged incumbent GOP Rep. David Jolly, and won. Up in the Panhandle, Rep. Gwen Graham, a Democrat, opted to leave Congress when her district encompassed more Republicans, which paved a way for Republican Neal Dunn to capture her seat on Nov. 8.

“I absolutely believe Fair Districts worked. And is in process,” Pamela Goodman, president of the League of Women Votes of Florida, told us in an email. “I always said this was never going to be the revolutionary change that the majority party feared. It would be evolutionary. Most importantly: more candidates, new candidates and higher level of discourse. I believe that all happened.”

Much of the election night evidence suggests she’s right, and if so, then voters should be grateful that Goodman’s group and its partners fought so hard and long to hold lawmakers accountable for following the law.

Remember, the goal of the Fair Districts amendments was not to benefit one party, or certain candidates. It was to cobble together voters, whether in small rural towns or congested metro areas, in a commonsense, geographically meaningful fashion so that they could choose representatives who better understood their needs and interests. That may or may not lead to “fairness,” as some voters want to define it, but it will produce political leadership that reflects their given communities - and that is something all of us should welcome. We know some of those fresh faces in Tallahassee and Washington would concur.



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