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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.

Marketplace and Limited Vision

I was doing what I usually do late on Wednesdays, driving home from bridge and listening to “Marketplace” on WUSF. This was the day after the election, and its business-oriented commentators hadn’t quite absorbed that Trump lost, but they did understand that Democrats won the House. The immediate question posed was what can Congress do that doesn’t increase the national debt? Then they went on to remind listeners that the debt has risen precipitously since Republicans took total power – something they pretty much ignored before the election.

Yes, largely because Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and Donald Trump gave corporate welfare to guys who already are rich, federal revenue is down and debt is up. The way our national debt is measured varies according to many research methodologies, but everyone agrees that it was reduced under President Clinton after a run-up by George I. When George II took the White House, it soared again as the economy dissolved into the Great Recession. Barak Obama had to invest a lot of money to prevent bankruptcies, especially in the car industry, but by the time he left office, employment and thus taxpaying revenue again was rising.

Since then, according to the non-partisan Concord Coalition, a group of really smart economists, the debt rose from $665 billion in June 2017 to $804 billion in September of this year. This 21% increase in what the nation owes is despite both houses of Congress and the White House being held by so-called fiscal conservatives. So, having memorized the false creed that Democrats are big spenders, the Marketplace guys went on to speculate on what projects Nancy Pelosi could spend on that wouldn’t increase the debt. Their immediate point was that spending on infrastructure needs – improved highways, bridges, airports, and more – probably can’t happen now. Not that Pelosi ever made big promises on that anyway. As I recall, it was Donald Trump who pushed that message in the Rust Belt states with lots of unemployed guys in the construction biz. But there are many important things we can do that don’t cost a lot of money.

Election Uniformity

We can start by reforming our election laws. Other than perhaps some incentive for states and municipalities to buy new vote-counting machines, this costs very little. We need a national discussion on methods of voting, and after input from citizens, Congress can write a bill that creates uniformity at least at the level of federal elections (themselves and the president/vice president). Arguably Congress should not interfere with state and local elections – but on the other hand, we added the 14th and 15th Amendments after the Civil War to ensure the equality of voters no matter where they live. Ditto with the 19th Amendment, which guaranteed the vote to all women, no matter where they lived. Some states and territories, you know, had enfranchised women and then took away that right. The Department of Justice really should be there to protect equality of voters no matter what state laws may say.

But the US Constitution – including the 17th Amendment that allowed voters to directly elect their US senators -- spells out the rules for federal offices, and all states arguably should be playing by the same rules for those races. The most egregious example of a lack of uniformity that came to my attention this year is Georgia’s birth date law. A federal judge ruled on November 14 that mailed-in ballots lacking a birth date nonetheless must be counted – which the state didn’t intend to do until the feds caught up with them. The news stories, however, focused just on that technicality and didn’t ask why a ballot should have a birth date in the first place. Why should it? Except to intimidate voters by making them think that their vote is less than secret.

Voter suppression was evident in many places, but perhaps nowhere as much as South Dakota. Ballots there were rejected and/or undelivered because the voter did not have a physical address on file with the county elections office. Many people in rural areas never have had any address other than a postal route or box number, and that never seemed to be a problem until this year. Not surprisingly, those most affected were Native Americans living on the Rosebud Reservation – an area larger than Rhode Island.

We also see a tremendous lack of uniform standards in early voting and vote-by-mail. New York – which usually is deemed a liberal state – is exceptionally conservative in voter access. There is no early voting, and mailed ballots are accepted only if the voter swears to being unable to go to the polls on election day. Even then, the ballot must be postmarked at least a week before election day. New York’s only liberalizations over us here in Florida is that the polls are open three more hours – from 6:00 AM to 9:00 PM – and no photo ID is required. But with everyone voting on the same day, New Yorkers must stand in long lines, and election officials naturally are more likely to make mistakes.

Oregon, in contrast, uses a vote-by-mail system exclusively – and has done so for years without any problems. There’s no need to predict your future to determine whether or not you will need an absentee ballot; there’s no provisional ballot because you went to the wrong precinct; there’s no taxpayer expenditure for renting polling places; and most of all, no long lines and no chaos on election day. What’s not to like?

Maine recently adopted a general election run off method: in races with more than two candidates, voters mark their first and second choices. If no one wins a majority (as opposed to the usual plurality), candidates with the fewest votes are dismissed, and the ballots go back into the machines until someone wins more than 50%. California and Louisiana also have run-off systems. These are just a few of many variations, and other states, the District of Columbia, and territories such as Puerto Rico have still more. Even within a state, election officials are free to develop their own standards. Locally, for instance, Hillsborough County offered twenty early-voting sites, all in libraries or other publicly-owned property, while Pinellas offered just five – and three of them were branches of the supervisor’s office.

I could go on and on with examples of variations in election methods that can result in discrimination based on where voters live and on how the jurisdictions count their ballots. The National Association of State Legislators has reams of information on this, as does the League of Women Voters. You could do your part by joining the League; for the last century, it has been the chief organization promoting fair elections. In any case, we need a national discussion and some reforms. Money isn’t everything, Marketplace mouthpieces. The cost of election reform is infinitesimal, and investing in it would be a huge boon for democracy.


I want to say a few words about it because I love the holiday, and more and more it is disappearing. I remember my mother complaining about that when I was just a child. It’s only gotten worse, as Christmas stuff appears in stores even before Halloween, and the whole holiday season is given over to shopping. So I’ve written about these things before, but I’m doing it again.

• The first Thanksgiving in North America was here in Florida, on September 8, 1565. Spanish priests led new settlers in a mass of thanksgiving after several thousand people safely landed at St. Augustine. Yes, it was a government-sponsored expedition that included women, children, and slaves. Because church and state were synonymous in the Spanish empire, everyone was a devout Catholic. Or said they were. People of other faiths couldn’t legally live in Florida until 1821, when it became part of the US.

• Virginia, settled in 1607, was a capitalist venture that included no women and had very little evidence of religion. Its young men were disappointed that the shores did not glitter with gold, and because few of them ever actually had done the work necessary for life, many just gave up and died. The winter of 1609-10 may have seen as many as 450 of 500 colonists die of exposure and malnutrition.

• Of the 104 Pilgrims who arrived in Massachusetts in 1620, just 18 were adult women – and by the end of their first terrible winter, 14 of them would be dead: many clearly starved themselves so that their children could eat. And of the 18 women, at least three were pregnant when they sailed into the unknown, while the men who commanded the Mayflower timed their voyage so that they arrived at Plymouth on Christmas Day, 1620. This was coincidence, not intentional, as the Pilgrims did not celebrate Christmas. Their first Thanksgiving was the next autumn, and Indian women doubtless cooked most of the food.

• Thanksgiving was not a national holiday until President Franklin Roosevelt permanently set it as the date as the fourth Thursday in November. His declaration was in 1939, the first year of World War II in Europe. Prior to that, various presidents had declared days of Thanksgiving at various dates, the most notable of which was Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. Because of that, some Southerners refused to acknowledge the holiday until well into the twentieth century.

• Lincoln’s declaration was particularly in response to an appeal led by Sarah Josepha Hale, the longtime editor of the first successful magazine for women. That everyone knows about Plymouth and almost no one knows about St. Augustine is rooted in the English and Protestant tradition of educating women: women who graduated from Massachusetts’ pioneer schools went west and taught their version of history in the nation’s schoolhouses. Spanish Catholics seldom educated girls and never allowed unmarried women to travel or develop careers -- and thus St. Augustine’s earlier precedent did not enter our national heritage.

• Almost all cultures have a harvest festival after crops are gathered in autumn, and because any feast day – especially those of thanksgiving -- requires food preparation, women always have been central to their celebration. And now it’s time for me to head to Publix.


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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