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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

Odds and Ends

Mostly odd. Ideas that have been on my desk long enough. First off, Hubby reads a lot of magazines. He takes them out of a rain-proof cooler on the deck, turns on his little water fountain, drinks his morning coffee, and reads. The habit keeps him up with what’s current so well that he showed me this item a couple of weeks ago -- even though it is from the January 2018 issue of Wired.

The title is “Positive Energy: The Sunny Optimism of Clean Tech,” and not surprisingly, much of the “sunny” part refers to the growth of solar power. Turns out that the cost of putting panels on your house has plummeted in the past decade and is expected to drop another 30% in the next few years. (A nod here to the Florida League of Women Voters, which continues to challenge the highly profitable but regressive utilities that still use coal and oil here in our Sunshine State. These powerful corporations do this by using your money to buy legislators and the so-called Public Service Commission.) Anyway, what Hubby pointed out to me was just two ironic sentences: “You know who switched to solar power last year, because it was so much cheaper? The Kentucky Coal Museum.”

Another Odd Item

Very unfortunately so. You know which Florida agency paid out the most money to settle lawsuits for sexual harassment? The misnamed Department of Corrections. Of the top ten (largely secret) payments from the state since 1992, five – fully half – were in that department. The largest single one, settled in 2007, was a class-action suit by nurses who worked in prisons. Evidently, even with their weapons, guards were unable to protect these women – although the probability is that it was guards who committed the offenses for which our taxes paid.

All were cases of men attacking women, and four other departments, with one each, also touch on the criminal justice system. The other payments to victims were from the Department of Law Enforcement, the Department of Children and Families, the Division of Highway Safety & Motor Vehicles, and in 2001, the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office. The tenth case was in 1997 and the Division of Risk Management, which issued the report, said only “The Legislature,” without naming which chamber.

So I googled the plaintiff’s name and found that neither she nor her male boss were legislators: They were employed as purchasing agents for a no-longer extant joint committee. The case was very serious, with violent attempted rape, and a federal court imposed the damages. Now retired and age 68, she has been hired as a consultant on how the legislature should deal with recent charges against elected members. There’s one easy solution that I proposed as an experiment a couple of weeks ago: Just take a decade off, guys. Give yourselves a break and let women run everything. I guarantee you it will be better.

Speaking of the Legislature

I have to credit the Tampa Bay Times for its attention to the number of Floridians who will go unrepresented in the annual legislative session that begins next week. Calling it “a rash of vacancies,” the list spelled out that four House seats and two Senate seats will be empty. Just one of the necessary special elections will occur prior to the legislature’s scheduled adjournment, and in two of the six, an election date wasn’t yet set.

The Republican man who represented the Villages died, but the other vacancies are because members quit. One is well-known Pinellas Senator Jack Latvala, a Republican charged with sexual harassment. That got a lot of press, but that was not the case for the other five who recently said goodbye to Tallahassee. (Actually, it adds up to six resignations if we count Plant City Republican Dan Raulerson, who resigned in disgust with House leadership, but he had the grace to leave in time for a special election last month.) This number of vacancies is highly unusual; I can’t remember a legislative session when there were more than one or two empty seats.

Reasons? Auburndale Republican Neil Combee is one of Donald Trump’s tardy appointments to federal jobs. The president has been too busy playing golf to get down to the nitty-gritty of governing, but in November, he appointed Combee as the state director of the US Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency. The election to replace him in this district of more than 100,000 registered voters will not be until May, while the session should end in March.

A Sarasota House district is vacant because of the resignation of Republican Alex (Alexandra) Miller. She won election just last year and apparently was surprised to realize that lawmaking is work. Her letter of resignation, effective September 1, explained: “As a mother with two teenage boys and the CEO of a rapidly growing business, I have come to the conclusion that I must spend more time at home.” Yet one suspects that there was more at play here: Less than an hour later, Jim Buchanan – son of Republican Congressman Vern Buchanan – announced he would run. It’s the sort of thing that makes voters cynical.

Over on the East Coast, Palm Beach Senator Jeff Clemens, a Democrat, resigned for reasons similar to those of Pinellas’s Jack Latvala. Clemens was not accused of sexual harassment, but he admitted to an extra-marital affair with a lobbyist and resigned within a day of that making the news. The seat will be vacant until a special election on April 10, with more than 300,000 voters unrepresented.

Finally, I am most disappointed in Democrat Daisy Baez of Coral Gables. I supported her in 2014 and in 2016, when she won. I was impressed that as a Dominican native, she became both an Army veteran and a mother who specializes in the health care industry. Meeting residency requirements certainly isn’t the most important reason for electing someone, but Baez lied when she signed forms stating that she lived in House District 114, as her home is about a half-mile outside its boundaries. She worsened the situation by claiming to have rented a place inside the district, but evidence did not support that. Even though she also is a Democratic woman, Dade State Attorney Katherine Rundle charged Baez with perjury, and she resigned. That election will be May 1. Yes, it is Governor Rick Scott who sets these dates.

Bits of Hope

This item has been on my desk for so long that I can’t recall when I clipped it and failed to date it, but the headline was “Police run out of cash in gun-buyback event.” Promising not to ask questions about a gun’s history, San Diego cops offered a $150 Walmart gift card for every one turned in, as well as a $250 card for assault rifles. They gave out $25,000 in gift cards and got 164 weapons off the street. An idea for us to emulate in Tampa Bay?

It was back in October when online columnist Leslie Salzillo featured this headline: “Jimmy Carter blasts the misogyny of male religious leaders – and the politicians who cower before them.” Salzillo reminded readers of a 2009 piece by the former president and Nobel Prize winner, saying: “If I could choose any op-ed that I’ve ever read in my lifetime and deem it a ‘must read,’ it is this.” Now in the public domain, here is part of President Carter’s editorial:

“I have been a practicing Christian all my life and a deacon and Bible teacher for many years… My decision to sever my ties with the Southern Baptist Convention was painful and difficult. It was, however, a necessary decision when the convention’s leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses…and claiming that Eve was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be subservient…

“This view that women are somehow inferior to men is not restricted to one religion… At its most repugnant, the belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, forced prostitution, genital mutilation, and national laws that omit rape as a crime… The impact of these religious beliefs…explains why in many countries, boys are educated before girls; why girls are told when and whom they must marry; and why many face enormous and unacceptable risks in pregnancy and childbirth… In some Islamic nations, women are restricted in their movements...or competing with men for a job. If a woman is raped, she is often most severely punished as the guilty party…

“The justification of discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition, as if prescribed by a Higher Authority, is unacceptable… The truth is that male leaders have had – and still have – an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter… It is time we had the courage to challenge these views.”

Jimmy Carter practices what he preaches and lives his faith. All these years later, I still can’t believe that he lost his re-election to a divorced Hollywood actor who didn’t speak to his children – supported by the “Moral Majority” and its platform of so-called family values. We never have righted ourselves as a nation from that 1980 political malpractice, as evidenced by the guy in the White House today who actually boasts of his immoral behavior. Let us start correcting those wrongs in 2018.


Doris Weatherford writes a weekly column for La Gaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper. With pages in Spanish, Italian, and English, it has been published in Tampa since 1922.
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