icon caret-left icon caret-right instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads question-circle facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle

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.

Things are looking up

Things are looking up. I’ve come to this conclusion despite a greater lack of enthusiasm for the 2014 gubernatorial election than in any in my life. But optimism nonetheless is a reasonable conclusion because Charlie Crist demonstrates that people can evolve. Even someone once known as “Chain Gang Charlie” can grow intellectually and expand his ideology to include the depths of understanding that are necessary to deal with complex issues, including those of crime.

Crime rates across the nation have fallen dramatically in the last decades, as we have given up on police chiefs such as the one whom Carroll O’Connor (the future Archie Bunker) portrayed in “The Heat of the Night.” Proudly ignorant, he refused forensic tools offered by the big-city black man, Sidney Poitier. Since then, we as a nation have discovered that instead of such racists and hate-mongers, a Jane Castor is statistically more likely to win the war on crime. Call us guilty of a “flip flop” if you like, but we have completely reversed our positions on chain gangs, civil rights, and any number of other issues since I was young – and that is a good thing.

Compare, for example, such seemingly disconnected issues as cigarette smoking and unwed motherhood. Back then, if a woman became pregnant and could not marry, she was shunned, obliged to hide herself, and give up the infant. Millions of women killed themselves rather than have the world know their shame at having sex prior to marriage. Now no one is shocked if a woman chooses to have a baby without benefit of a husband, and the tobacco user – which then was almost everyone -- is more likely to be shunned and isolated.

That sort of “flip flop” shows that with additional knowledge and thought, we humans can progress and behave in ways that are more mutually beneficial. Without changed minds, we would still be living in a world in which a Socrates or Galileo could be sentenced to death for advocating a new idea. Instead of flying across the globe in a matter of hours, we would believe that the world was flat, and if we ventured too far from home, we risked falling off the edge. A changed mind is a mind that has been thinking.

I am so grateful to the men who changed their minds on whether or not women could vote. The conclusion of the long debate on that issue came on August 26, 1920. This year is the first when the anniversary and a Florida election coincide: the primaries for both parties, as well as the non-partisan races for school board and judges, will occur next Tuesday, August 26. By then, of course, many of us already will have cast our ballots by more convenient mail or at early voting sites – another result of changed minds.

The Hillsborough County League of Women Voters will celebrate August 26 at the old federal courthouse, now the new Le Meridian Hotel, from 5:00 to 7:30 on Tuesday. You can call 813-649-4309 to make a reservation. Join us in raising a glass to the valiant men who changed their minds and decided that their wives, daughters, sisters, and mothers were capable of casting a ballot. Millions of proud conservatives thought differently at the time -- and in the long term, their negative philosophy inherently never wins.

* * *

The League of Women Voters also recently won a major court victory with its suit on gerrymandered congressional districts. This is another of the complex issues on which reformers have labored for decades. The US Constitution, adopted in 1789, intended that districts for the US House be representative of populations, but from the beginning, power brokers have attempted to diminish that principle. Did you know, for instance, that even after Illinois women got the vote in 1920, that state had at-large House districts? This practice meant that districts for the US House were as large as those for the Senate, completely in defiance of the Constitution’s intent. (The same is arguably true of the Hillsborough County Commission, but we’ll leave that for another day.)

Dominated as it is by young white men, our legislature pretty much ignored the judicial order when it drew a new map. Leaguers have the persistence of mothers, though, and I’m confident that the LWV will keep going back to court until we get congressional districts that truly represent Florida’s varied communities. A fair version of that map would give us two seats in Hillsborough County, instead of the string-out that we currently have into Pinellas, Pasco, Polk, and Manatee. If more reasonable districts were the legislature’s true intent, a middle-school child probably could draw them. It isn’t, though, and I hope the courts will change legislative minds.

On all of these decisions and more, it is vital to know the history of a problem, and women’s lack of knowledge of our own history probably is the greatest barrier to our progress. Because we don’t know that some other courageous woman pushed this particular stone uphill in the past, we are reluctant to try it ourselves. In another case of our lack of historical knowledge, when Charlie Crist named Annette Taddeo as his running mate, some pundits who should have known better deemed it unusual for gubernatorial candidate to choose a running mate prior to winning the nomination. It isn’t.

Back in 1978, when some commentators still were toddlers, that practice was routine – and not just one, but two, candidates for lieutenant governor were women. Bob Graham was the ultimate winner of that year’s hotly contested election, and both he and his opponents named their running mates many months before the first primary (early September) and the run-off (early October). The two women both were Democrats.

Tampa’s own Betty Castor ran with Jim Williams of Ocala, a well-qualified candidate who was not as charismatic as the singing Bob Graham from Miami. The other was Mary Singleton, who in 1969 had become the first African-American woman on Jacksonville City Council. She ran with Claude Kirk – another Republican who changed his mind. In 1966, he had been the first Republican since Reconstruction to win the governor’s office; he came back in 1978 as a Democrat running with a black woman. Times change.

* * *

And more good news: have you noticed the gas prices? It’s amazing to drive around and see $3.15 and even $3.11. And this is in mid-summer, when families take vacations and prices usually rise. Nor is anything much different in the Middle East or the Black Sea area of Ukraine, the usual excuse for rising petroleum costs. Not that this good news makes the news, nor that any reporters explain why. Wanna bet that if it were going in the opposite direction, prices at the pump would be the headlines every day?

I truly would like a good explanation from a serious business reporter, but few news establishments employ such thoughtful investigators anymore. I don’t have the resources (or the motivation) to do it myself, but I do want us to remember that the great economist Newt Gingrich predicted if Obama were elected, gas would soar to $6 a gallon. Would some enterprising reporter ask Newt if he wants to flip flop on that?

Other excellent economic indicators that the media generally ignores: the United States has had 46 straight months of growth, and unemployment is the lowest it has been since 2008, the year the Bush family left the White House. Even the capitalists who fund Wall Street seem to believe that Democratic economic theory is working. I cheered in our hotel room in Estonia when the Dow Jones Average went over 17,000 for the first time ever.

Even though Wall Street fought pro-consumer advocates such as Elizabeth Warren and Janet Yellin, their economic theory is a big factor in this revival. The Obama administration is following the principle laid down by Eleanor Roosevelt long ago: instead of fighting over pieces of the pie, simply bake a bigger pie. You can dress that theorem up in any jargon you want, but it is the essential truth.

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.
Make a comment to the author