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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.

“Fangate” and Amendment Three

I usually don’t comment here in “In Context” on the subjects that flood all of our inboxes, but I’m going to do so about “Fangate.” As everyone knows by now, Governor Rick Scott pitched a petulant fit because former Governor Charlie Crist had a small fan under his podium at their recent debate. The rules had prohibited “electronic devices,” and Scott tried to use that legalistic argument to refuse to come on stage.

It made me wonder if he knows the difference between “electronic” and “electric.” Electric fans developed almost as soon as electricity, more than a century ago. My dad’s Minnesota farm did not have electricity until the 1920s, and he treasured the fan that he bought almost as much as he treasured his crystal-wave radio that required a headset to hear the sound from Minneapolis. The fan is electric; the radio is electronic.

One of my siblings still has Dad’s old Emerson fan. With four unprotected whirling metal blades that could sever a finger in a second, it never would be produced today. But we children obeyed when we were told to stay far away from it, and the fan still can blow up a breeze today.

If the meaning of “electric” and “electronic” is the same – as apparently is the case in Scott’s narrow world – then we’d have to shut off the lights and debate in the dark. They’d have to give up microphones, as well as air conditioning. The troubling thing for me is not only Scott’s ten-year-old behavior, which validates again Florida’s top rank as the target of comedians, but the campaign’s insistence that they were right.

Scott aides insisted on precision in the debate rules – and yet were hugely imprecise in considering a fan to be an “electronic device” instead of merely an electric one. In college, this is the difference between the traditional major of mechanical/civil engineering and the new field of electronic engineering/computer science.

Yet the campaign’s language was not really doublespeak because doublespeak requires some thought. Instead, it’s merely ignorance and disregard: meanings don’t matter. It’s the Alice in Wonder Land syndrome, where the queen’s definition is the only one allowed. It’s a precursor to fascism, where what the biggest bully says is correct.

But distinctions of that sort can hardly be expected of party hacks who ostensibly promote STEM while refusing to acknowledge weather science or invest in solar energy (here in the Sunshine State!) or think carefully about water conservation or, in fact, heed any warnings at all from true scientists.

* * *

And his crew would give still more power to the governor with the current proposed Amendment Three to the Florida Constitution. Please vote against that.

We voters already have given up our power to elect the Public Service Commission that regulates utilities (speaking of electricity), and especially our non-TECO neighbors have seen a huge increase in their bills. Without elections to direct their attention to voters, PSC members respond only to lobbyists who pour money into the campaign account of their boss, the governor. The PSC allowed Florida Power to sell out to out-of-state Duke Energy, and Duke has proved a dud.

Its management has spent billions on nuclear energy delivery systems that they now have decided not to build – nor do they have any intention to return the money that customers paid in a special rate increase for this. It was the PSC that allowed that increase, and it is the PSC that now ignores the public cry for rebates and relief. They don’t have to. They never will see their names on a ballot.

So we gave up our right to elect the PSC back in the 1980s, and then, after Jeb Bush won the governorship in 1998, we gave up our right to elect two members of the Florida Cabinet. Almost every state elects its secretary of state, but we surrendered that power and allowed the governor to appoint the secretary of state. We did the same with the commissioner of education. I keep saying “we,” but I didn’t vote for these constitutional changes.

I was particularly concerned with the latter two offices because they have been historic steppingstones for women. The very first woman who won a statewide race for office was in North Dakota in 1892, when Laura Eisenhuth was elected state superintendent of schools – almost three decades prior to the full enfranchisement of most American women. In Florida, we finally elected the first woman as education commissioner (our equivalent of North Dakota’s position) in 1986. She was Tampa Democrat Betty Castor -- and turned out to be the only woman who ever served in this office before it lost its elective status.

The first female secretary of state also was Hispanic: she was Soledad Chavez Chacon in New Mexico in 1922. Florida did not elect a woman to this position until 1994, when Pinellas County’s Sandra Mortham won. She lost it, though, at the end of her first term; in a brutal 1998 Republican primary, Sarasota’s Katherine Harris defeated her. Jeb became governor that year, and as he consolidated power in the governor’s office, voters agreed to give up their right to elect this position. Thus the only three Florida women to win Cabinet races have seen the office that they held taken off the ballot.

So back to the beginning and Amendment Three. Not satisfied with these power plays, the governor’s gang has gotten Amendment Three on this year’s ballot. Even though we are voting in 2014, it is specific to 2018, when the term of whoever wins in November will expire. The Amendment will grant him (and we know it will be a “him”) the power to name appointees to the Florida Supreme Court after the election and before the new governor takes office. It just happens that three justices will be reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70 in January 2019, and the proposed amendment will allow the incumbent governor to stack the court’s dais with his buddies on his way out the door.

Please vote No on Three!

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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