- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

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Jan. 11

The Sun Sentinel on the state’s congressional delegates who voted to contest the presidential election results:

In the attack on American democracy to advance Donald Trump’s lies of a “stolen” election, Florida occupies a shameful place.



Twelve members of the state’s congressional delegation joined Sen. Rick Scott in rejecting the lawful votes of millions of Americans who voted for Joe Biden in Arizona, Pennsylvania or both. Only one other state - Texas, with its 16 traitorous Trumpers - had so many members of Congress perpetrating a fraud on the people that encouraged mass violence by the president’s delusional far-right supporters.

The congressional gang of 12 is from all over the state, from big cities and small towns. They are all Republicans who put party before country, who lacked the courage and common sense to uphold the Constitution when it mattered most.

Introducing Florida’s Hall of Shame:

Kat Cammack, R-Gainesville

Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami

Byron Donalds, R-Naples

Neal Dunn, R-Panama City

Scott Franklin, R-Lakeland

Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach

Carlos Giménez, R-Miami

Brian Mast, R-Palm City

Bill Posey, R-Rockledge

John Rutherford, R-Jacksonville

Greg Steube, R-Sarasota

Dan Webster, R-Clermont

Know these names. Remember them. These are the Sunshine State Seditionists. Part of the Treason Caucus. They promoted the big lie of the stolen election. They tried to subvert the will of the people and substitute Trump for the true winner, Joe Biden, who won Arizona and Pennsylvania. All told, these 12 represent more than 6 million Floridians.

In spite of them, democracy survived. Thanks to a narrow Democratic majority in the House, including 10 Democratic representatives from Florida, and to senators in both parties, the seditionists did not succeed and Biden will be sworn in as president on Jan. 20.

As for the disloyal dozen, you probably don’t recognize some of those names. Four were sworn in just last week after riding to victory in part on Trump’s base, so they are too petrified to stand up to him.

The four freshmen are Cammack of Gainesville, Donalds of Naples, Franklin of Lakeland and Giménez of Miami. History will judge them and their colleagues harshly. Condemning the violence afterward can’t change the fact that they encouraged it by parroting Trump’s baseless conspiracy theories.

As for the others, well, we get Matt Gaetz. No one in Congress has shown such blind allegiance to the sinister madman at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

But having followed some the others’ careers since they were in the state Legislature decades ago, we expected better from Mario Diaz-Balart, a former state senator from Miami-Dade, and Daniel Webster, a fair-minded conservative and the first Republican speaker of the Florida House in more than a century. They know better. But they fomented anarchy and placed their colleagues in physical danger to score political points with Trump and his mob.

Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, described hiding with a colleague for five hours in a corner of the Capitol. She said Trump allies taunted her at the airport when she flew home and a colleague told her not to wear her lapel pin identifying her as a member of Congress lest she be targeted.

If the Republicans could see the magnitude of their mistakes, they all would resign. But instead, they will answer to the voters in the next election in 2022 in redrawn districts - to be created, unfortunately, by pro-Trump legislators in Tallahassee.

Trump, on the verge of being the only president in American history to be impeached twice, won’t be around to praise them when they stay in line and threaten them when they show the slightest independence.

Then there’s Scott, Florida’s junior senator, who’s in a category all by himself.

Unlike a congressman, Scott does not represent one section of Florida drawn for partisan advantage. He represents the entire state. Scott rejected Pennsylvania’s votes after accepting Arizona’s, so he tried to have it both ways. Not only that, Scott voted to toss out the certified results after Trump’s mob trashed the Capitol. Anarchy, death and destruction could not make this bitter-ender change his mind.

On a brighter note, let us not overlook the 64 House Republicans who upheld the election results, including two from Florida: Reps. Michael Waltz of St. Augustine Beach and Vern Buchanan of Longboat Key, who noted on Twitter that Congress may not have the legal authority to overturn an election certified by the Electoral College. (Even here, Buchanan could not quite admit the truth: The law states that Congress “shall,” not “may,” count the Electoral College votes and “shall,” not “may,” declare whomever has the most Electoral College votes to be the president. Congress plainly does not have the authority to overturn an election certified by the states, and yet Buchanan invents controversy where there is none.)

Few could have predicted this time last year that a deadly mob would lay siege to the U.S. Capitol, trashing one of our greatest symbols of democracy and taking five lives, including a Capitol police officer.

It was about this time a year ago that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., visited Broward. Trump’s first impeachment trial was coming to a close, Congress was in recess and Pelosi’s hometown San Francisco 49ers were in the Super Bowl, in Miami Gardens.

Describing senators surrendering to Trump, Pelosi was eerily prescient.

“They’re supposed to be strengthening the institution in which they serve, instead of letting it melt away to a rogue president,” Pelosi said at the Sun Sentinel offices in Deerfield Beach. “Let’s see if (they) will choose loyalty to the Constitution or loyalty to Donald Trump.”

The Sunshine State Seditionists chose Trump, to their everlasting shame.

Online: https://www.sun-sentinel.com/

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Jan. 10

The Miami Herald on the COVID-19 vaccine rollout:

Florida’s healthcare workers who are on the front lines in the fight against COVID-19 have been among the first Floridians to get the vaccine. Senior citizens are especially vulnerable to this deadly virus, and they, too, are at the head of the line to get the shot.

Gov. Ron DeSantis was right to make each group a priority. He was smart, too, to make hospitals the main channel of distribution. They have the personnel to deliver the vaccine and access to the targeted populations. And he has made clear that he wants to give more vaccine to those facilities that can scale up efficiently and effectively.

Now, one of the most responsible things the governor can do is tell Floridians: Who’s next?

LOOK AHEAD, GOVERNOR

There remains so much uncertainty, bordering on chaos sometimes, even as the precious vaccine is administered. While some of those eligible are thrilled when the process of getting an appointment, then getting the vaccine goes smoothly, many others still are lost in the weeds of the process of getting a time certain, managing to get to the vaccination site, only to be turned away.

There’s also the uncertainty of how much of the vaccine the state is getting. That means each county and hospital aren’t clear, either, This, of course, determines how many people can be vaccinated. It varies.

In fact, there is so much uncertainty that a bipartisan group of congressional lawmakers, including Reps. Carlos Gimenez and Mario Diaz-Balart - Republicans like DeSantis - sent the governor a letter on Friday requesting a briefing. They want to know what to tell their constituents. DeSantis should not keep them in the dark, which has been his unfortunate habit.

The governor has provided little guidance, leaving it up to individual venues to interpret the guidelines. Unfortunately, almost the only thing that’s has been consistent about the governor’s stewardship of the COVID pandemic is his inconsitency in conveying, first, that he really knows what he’s doing and, second, that he is totally committed to eliminating this scourge.

On Jan. 9 alone, Florida reported 15,445 new COVID-19 cases, breaking a two-day streak where cases exceeded 19,000.

TEACHERS NEXT

So much is still up in the air that the governor should deliver some peace of mind to Floridians by announcing sooner rather than later what group of people, which demographic will be next in line for the shot in the arm.

Our recommendation: teachers, police officers, firefighters, transit and postal workers. Then, perhaps, restaurant workers, delivery-truck drivers, supermarket and grocery store employees. In other words, the public-facing workers who were applauded as essential just a few short months ago, worthy of our gratitude, allowing the rest of us to hunker down in quarantine.

But DeSantis clapped back at teachers, who are justified to want vaccines sooner rather than later. That’s a ridiculous stance. DeSantis ordered public schools to open - even threatening districts that didn’t reopen - therefore, making teachers, administrators and students more vulnerable to contracting the virus no matter how careful they are.

DeSantis has steadfastly refused to mandate that Floridians wear masks and has handcuffed counties that want to impose tougher safety measures. Those who make a living while most exposed to the thoughtless people who refuse to mask up should be moved to the front of the line to be vaccinated, thereby helping protect the many others with whom they come in contact, too. If the governor isn’t going to be consistent, at least he should be helpful, not hurtful.

Online: https://www.miamiherald.com/

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Jan. 8

The Orlando Sentinel on the Lowell Correctional Institution and prison reform:

A two-year Department of Justice investigation into the Lowell Correctional Institution near Ocala has confirmed what anyone who cared already knew.

America’s largest women’s prison has been a hellhole of sexual abuse and corruption for at least 15 years. But as disgusting as the 34-page report is, the most disturbing thing isn’t the rapes or beatings or cover-ups.

It’s how few people in power cared. And that indifference has left inmates in danger to this day.

“Our investigation found that staff sexually abused women incarcerated at Lowell and that these women remain at substantial risk,” Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband said in a press release.

Remain at substantial risk.

That line should ring like an air raid siren throughout the legislative halls in Tallahassee.

Four female legislators have called for the removal of prison administrators and introduced a bill that would improve treatment of prisoners. That’s a start, but the rot in Florida’s prison system calls for a major reckoning.

It should start at the top. Ron DeSantis has paid scant attention to Lowell’s problems. Of course, neither did Rick Scott, Charlie Crist or Jeb Bush when they served as governor.

Fingers could also be pointed at all the legislators and administrators who should have detected the scandalous stench emanating from the 2,200-prisoner facility.

The Florida Department of Corrections has been aware of the abuse at least since 2006, the DOJ report said. But the department “failed to take timely action to remedy the systemic problems.”

State officials can’t plead ignorance. A Miami Herald investigation in 2015 was based in part on FDOC documents and public records requests.

The Herald also interviewed more than 30 inmates. People like Casey Hodge, who was sentenced to three years in prison on a drug trafficking charge in 2012. She was legally blind and had a glass eye.

When Hodge showed up at Lowell, guards made her remove the prosthetic eye and pretended to vomit. Hodge said a guard threatened to send her to solitary confinement if she didn’t regularly have sex with him.

“I did what he said because I didn’t know what would happen,” she told the Herald. “I didn’t know what he was capable of.”

Other inmates said guards slammed inmates against walls, spat in their faces, ogled them as they used the bathroom and poured coffee or bleach on them.

The Herald’s stories prompted the FDOC to replace Lowell’s warden and hire more than 100 new guards. That didn’t stop the abuse.

The DOJ report said prison authorities did not properly investigate a long list of abuse complaints. The lax atmosphere explains how guards beat inmate Cheryl Weimar in 2019 after she told them a chronic hip problem kept her from scrubbing a toilet as they’d ordered.

Weimar ended up with a broken neck and is a paraplegic. She filed a federal lawsuit that was settled last August, with the state paying Weimar $4.65 million.

You’d think lawmakers would notice such a case. You’d think it might put the fear of God or DeSantis into Lowell officials. But the DOJ report said abuses continued into 2020.

And those were just the complaints prisoners actually filed. There’s no telling how many were coerced into silence over the years. Inmates were even told not to speak openly to the DOJ.

“During the Department’s onsite visits to Lowell, we received information that supervisory staff had threatened prisoners against cooperating with our investigation, and in one case retaliated against a prisoner for providing us with information,” the report said.

The DOJ is threatening to bring a civil rights lawsuit if the prison doesn’t make changes by Feb. 8. The “minimal remedial measures” include educating prisoners on complaint procedures, new training for staff and improved video monitoring.

Those are baby steps. The Lowell travesty calls for drastic measures and a huge dose of accountability.

Of 161 sexual abuse investigations the DOJ reviewed, only eight resulted in the arrest of an officer. The FDOC put out a statement saying it cooperated with the DOJ and will crack down on any employee who violates the law.

“FDC has zero tolerance for staff who act,” Secretary Mark Inch said.

Given the prison system’s history, such assurances mean nothing. Sen. Janet Cruz (D-Tampa) has called for Lowell warden Stephen Rossiter to resign.

Prisoner-rights advocates want a special prosecutor appointed or the state to create an independent agency to oversee Florida’s prisons. From staffing to budgets to policies, the whole system needs a serious overhaul.

Whatever actions are taken, potential crimes are not the only things that need to be investigated. Somebody needs to find out how so much abuse could go on for so long - and why state leaders barely even looked Lowell’s way.

If they had, they’d have seen a sign outside the prison gate. It says, “We Never Walk Alone.”

Tell that to Cheryl Weimar.

Online: https://www.orlandosentinel.com/

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