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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.

Do we even think about learning from others?

So did you notice that the NRA (National Rifle Association) had strict gun control at its recent convention in Nashville? Not only were attendees prohibited from bringing weapons to the event center, the guns that were for sale from vendors also were incapable of being tested by potential buyers. No ammunition was available, and the event organizers even went beyond that to insist that sellers remove the firing pins from guns. This meant that even if a guy managed to slip a bullet past security, no gun there could shoot it.

And these are the same people who want young people to be able to carry guns on college campuses. They want guards with loaded guns in every elementary school. They want no waiting period for purchases at Wal-Mart and no checking of criminal or mental health records. The public be damned, they think, but we will protect our own lives against each other. I can only conclude that its leadership knows what kind of angry and violent wing-nuts belong to the NRA, and the convention’s organizers very sensibly controlled the possibility of a shoot out. Would that they applied the same common sense to those of us who are vulnerable to attacks from these crazies!

While I’m on the subject, I’ve never understood why politicians have been so afraid of the NRA. When I researched my 2012 book for Congressional Quarterly Press, I was surprised to see the relatively low rank its PAC (political action committee) held compared with progressive PACs. The rounded-off numbers, in millions, looked like this:

1. Act Blue, a liberal Democratic PAC, $66

2. SEIU, a union composed largely of health care workers, $36

3. MoveOn.org, an online progressive presence, $30

4. EMILY’S List, which supports Democratic women, $27

5. AFSCME, a union of government workers, $18

6. NRA Victory Fund, $15

Of course, it’s entirely possible that they lied on their reports to the Federal Elections Commission, but most PACs like to have their numbers look big as indicative of popularity. I think the NRA is not nearly as big and powerful as they pretend to be. But they do have guns -- and politicians’ fear of the organization may be not so much a fear of their checkbook as a subliminal fear of assassination. And to be truthful, the group should change its name from National Rifle Association to National Handgun Association or National Pistol Association or Assault Weapons Association. It’s been a very long time since rifles were the most common weapon in American homes.

Final thought: Do you remember the movie, “Places in the Heart?” Set in rural Texas in 1935, it begins with the local sheriff eating a Sunday dinner prepared by his wife, played by Sally Field. Someone runs in to tell him that a black boy is down by the railroad tracks with a gun. The sheriff initially doubts it, as blacks had no access to guns at that place and time. He nonetheless goes, and while persuading the kid to give up the gun, is accidentally killed. White vigilantes drag the boy to death behind a truck, and the rest of the movie focuses on the widow’s struggle to grow a cotton crop with help from her young children, a black man hiding from the law, and a white man blinded by World War I.

But the point I remember most from the 1984 film was the sheriff’s incredulity that an African American would have a gun. Most of us have forgotten that our nation long had informal – and sometimes formal – gun control, unabashedly based on the status of the potential purchaser. This was true from colonial days onwards. One of the entries in my Milestones: A Chronology of American Women’s History is from 1651in frontier Springfield, Massachusetts, where “Widow Horton” was charged with selling a gun to a Native American man. When she argued that she merely lent it to him so that he could hunt meat for her, the court admonished her to “speedily get it home againe or else it would cost her dere for no commonwealth would allow of such a misdemeanor.”

Oh, and by the way, that excellent movie cost $9.5 million to make and grossed $35 million at the box office. Why doesn’t Hollywood see such potential profits anymore?

* * *

Hubby and I attended one of the informational sessions called “Go Hillsborough” that are being held by Hillsborough County’s appointed CEO, Mike Merrill, to gauge public interest in raising taxes to do something about our horrible traffic. It’s typical of our pusillanimous elected county commissioners that they sent their employees to do this rather than going themselves. I remember when we had the best BOCC (Board of County Commissioners) of all time, when Pam Iorio, Phyllis Busansky, Sylvia Kimbell, and Ed Turanchik were not afraid to go speak to voters themselves. I particularly remember a meeting in Plant City when Larry Brown, then the county administrator, stood at the back of the room -- and no one recognized him while they criticized him by name. He deserved the contempt he got from these taxpayers, but it was a striking lesson in democracy that no one realized the guy they were attacking was actually there among them. He didn’t, of course, put himself forward.

Mike Merrill is doing a much better job as the county’s leader, but there’s room for improvement. I don’t know if he or other members of his staff created the “ballot” that attendees can use to indicate our preferences, but I was disappointed in its lack of creativity. The options were limited to the conventional, and there was little in the presentation that indicated more than the same old, same old that got us into our daily gridlock.

Although we live in place that is surrounded by water, ferries never were mentioned. When Tampa Bay was settled in the 19th century, everyone moved by water. Women and even children rowed themselves downtown, using either the river or the bay. That declined after the railroad arrived in the 1880s, but trains and soon electric streetcars then provided cheap and easy transportation. Like the rest of America, we fell in love with the gas-powered car after World War II, and we made the mistake of allowing our train tracks to fall into disuse. But many still are there and capable of rehab.

There are tracks along the Crosstown in South Tampa; tracks that run from downtown to USF and on to Lutz; and even tracks in old places such as Thonotosassa – tracks that haven’t seen a train in years. There also are tracks that run along Highways 574 and 60 – and we East Hillsborough folks are well aware of the trains that run along these. There’s Amtrak twice a day, but unlike the situation in the Washington-Boston corridor, Amtrak trains never stop in our metro suburbs. There also are freight trains, long lines of cars carrying phosphate and other local products.

When I mentioned these possibilities, I was told (as I have been for the last twenty years, including time as the volunteer chair of the county’s Land Use committee back in the 1990s) that the tracks belong to CSX. I knew that, but I am grateful to Mr. Merrill for adding that Orlando bought rights from CSX for its Sun Rail. He suggested that Hillsborough could do the same, but it probably would take four or five years. I didn’t say it in the meeting, but I shall now: Why not speed up that information gathering and add it to the “Go Hillsborough” options?

I also think the fact that Orange County and Orlando both have elected mayors is a factor in need of further thought. Tampa Mayor Bob (and Pam before him) have done a much better job of envisioning the future than anyone on the county level – and their leadership has been so good that some people at this meeting in the no-longer fens and bogs of Valrico thought that Bob was their mayor. Two-thirds of Hillsborough’s residents live outside the City of Tampa, but they do not elect a chief executive. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: Eight states have populations smaller than Hillsborough County; can you imagine a state that doesn’t elect its governor?

And then there’s flex-time. I never go out at rush hour if I don’t have to, but when I do, I see long miles of people who apparently sit docilely in traffic day after day, wasting their time and gas and polluting our mutual air. In my particular corner of the county, many come from Sabal Park, where CitiBank and other corporations have their back offices. Because of bad decisions by our BOCC and the state’s DOT, they clog the intersection of I-75 and I-4 for hours.

Why not sit down with the execs who run these corporations and see what it would take to get them to offer their employees flexible hours? The nature of their work, I think, would make it entirely possible for the larks to arrive at the office at 5:00 AM, while the owls could show up at 10:00. Everyone would benefit, including children whose school days could be more nearly matched to their parents’ workdays. It even could be beneficial in terms of crime, as burglars would know that someone likely is around. We’ve had electricity for more than a century now, and we no longer have to work from sun to sun. All it takes is vision.

* * *

Speaking of electricity, a short thought. I saw a small newspaper blurb with important news that should have been better publicized: Costa Rica got 100% of its electricity for the first quarter of this year from non-fossil fuel sources. Most of that (68%) came from hydroelectric generators – or old fashioned water-over-the-dam. My Dad always preached that message and thought that the nation was making a real mistake when we let that method die in favor of oil or coal.

The remainder of Costa Rica’s energy comes from geo-thermal (natural hot springs), solar, and wind. Again, I can hear my Daddy saying from his grave that one windmill provided most of the power his family needed on their Minnesota farm. Modern wind farms now cover big stretches of Midwestern prairies, and I think their graceful movement would fit fine in Florida.

To say nothing of solar in the Sunshine State! I won’t. I can’t bring myself to think anymore about the unthinking politicians and corporate bosses we have allowed to diminish our lives. Nor shall I mention that Costa Rica abolished its army in 1948. And do we even think about learning from others?


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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