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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.

And the Winner for Best Recruiter Is…

Back when Hubby was president of United Faculty of Florida, he used to say that Jeb Bush’s 1998 election as governor turned out to be the best recruitment tool that academic unionism ever had: Membership shot up after professors saw reason to fear partisanship and personal attacks as Jeb! consolidated power by creating dozens of new college and university boards of trustees, giving himself hundreds of political appointments to reward his donors. Anyone think that follows the Republican creed of small government?

Now Donald Trump apparently is having the same effect as a great organizer for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Their online fundraising usually is less than $5 million -- but this year, it’s already up to a staggering $83 million. That’s just an amazing and very revealing stat. People are afraid of an overreaching White House intruding on their privacy and their personal rights, and they are counting on the ACLU to prevent that.

The ACLU plans to use some of this bounty here in Florida, where we have the largest number of disenfranchised citizens of any state in the nation. Unlike other places, Floridians who have served a prison sentence must go through a complicated and lengthy process to have their civil rights restored. That lifetime loss of the right to vote affects some 1.6 million Floridians. A little reminder of how big we are: Demographers now put Florida’s population at 20.1 million – and the 1.6 million Floridians who are prohibited from voting add up to a number larger than the entire populations of eleven states!

It’s really scandalous and should be better known. Moreover, this disenfranchisement affects one in every five Floridians who are African American. It is another explanation for why protesters are reemerging on American streets and even professional football fields. We especially are going backwards in Florida, as Governor Charlie Crist reversed this policy, but current Governor Rick Scott reinstated it. The League of Women Voters is joining with other organizations to put the question on the ballot for all of us next year, and you’ll hear more about it.

Traveling in Reverse

Some of the ACLU donations also will go to resisting the Trump administration’s demands for voter data that should be private. You saw, I trust, that the White House tried to obtain the personal contact information of people who protested at January’s inauguration. After state officials largely refused to cooperate, he set up a commission to investigate “voter fraud.” Another new bureaucracy, but who cares? The fact is that America has too few voters, not too many, and this new commission instead seems to be a medieval Star Chamber designed to compile an “enemies list” -- ala Richard Nixon, the original paranoid president.

With his constant attempts to divide Americans, Donald Trump is trying to reintroduce the hateful attitudes of the late 1960s and early 1970s. I lived through the Vietnam War and the end of racial segregation then, and I very much don’t want to go back. Although Hubby was a decorated Army officer, we both were quickly disillusioned by the war and especially by Nixon’s corrupt and cunning administration. He was smarter and slyer than Trump, but the hallmarks of both presidencies are divisive policies and insider money making.

The Vietnam War was especially hard on families. Hubby and I were fortunate that ours, both of which had several military men, were respectful of political differences -- but many friends became seriously estranged from parents who couldn’t quite grasp that their war, WWII, was a different and justifiable cause. And no, I’m not watching Ken Burns’ current series on Vietnam. It hurts my heart to relive that painful period. But I encourage you to watch it, especially if you are younger than we or if you never risked your life in war – or in marching against war.

Such issues are complicated, and just like the current NFL protests, some protestors can’t yet define exactly what their motivations are, beyond the presidential insult to their mothers. It takes time and history and context to sort out what is happening right now and to understand the full picture. Most of all, though, we don’t need a president who tells football owners how to manage their players or who tweets personal abuse on an almost hourly basis. He should have enough on his plate – particularly with the life-threatening conditions of the American citizens whose home is Puerto Rico. I guess you noticed how he rushed to offer empathy to Texas and Florida, which voted for him, but not Puerto Rico, which did not.

And Here in Tampa

Mayor Bob sets a completely different and welcoming tone, doing everything he can to unite instead of divide. He even cares what we think – enough that he recently ran a poll on his website to see what was on our minds. I’ve ranked the issues by the percentage of respondents who think it is “important,” as opposed to “not important” or “neutral:”

Streets and Stormwater: 88.7

Police and Community Relations: 74.8

Transportation, Including Light Rail: 74.7

Race Relations: 71.1

Job Creation: 70.7

Protecting MacDill AFB: 70.1

Downtown Redevelopment: 69.1

Sustainability/Climate Change: 60.6

Keeping the Tampa Bay Rays in the Area: 39.4

Additional Workforce Housing: 32.3

A couple of things are striking, especially the near-unanimity that we want attention to streets and drainage. Doubtless this was affected by the fact that the (unscientific) poll was conducted during hurricane season – but that is when we have the problem, isn’t it? Addressing it ahead of time is called planning, and it’s a major reason why we have government. Ditto re transportation, as it became obvious that we can’t all evacuate on the same roads at the same time. But while flooding subsidies, traffic gridlock is with us on a daily basis.

Again, you can blame Rick Scott and others of his party who turned down federal money to build a light-rail system. Scott was quite open about doing that to spite the Obama administration and Democrats. He spouts rhetoric on lower taxes as he flies over Florida in his private plane, oblivious to the needs of people below. He probably never has been stuck on I-4 between Tampa and Orlando in his life, and his days don’t begin by negotiating I-275 to get to work. The Howard Frankenstein doubtless has no meaning for him -- and when his DOT does propose change, they want to build Lexus Lanes with tolls. Privatization and profit over people, over and over again.

In another case of private profit, I hope that our leaders notice how little poll support there is for adding to the wealth of sports teams. I also venture to say that housing may have come in last as an important issue because of the awkward wording. “Additional workforce housing” sounds like some sort of Soviet commune, and I wonder how different the results might have been if it had been phrased simply “affordable housing.”

That Motivated a Little Research

A quick search revealed that the average monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Tampa is $1,183. Another database said that the median annual household income for Tampa Bay is $48,911. The measurement included the wealthier areas of St. Pete and Clearwater, however, and we all know that Tampa residents are less affluent. Remember, too, that this is household income, not individual, which usually means the wages of more than one earner. Individual incomes, or per capita, are harder to find, as the Chambers of Commerce types who provide such info prefer to create more respectable figures by bundling adults and ignoring children.

But let’s accept this rosier scenario and do the math. Rent at $1,183 per month for twelve months is $14,196 a year. Even using the probably overstated annual income figure of $48,911, just a glance at the numbers tells you that people are paying almost a third of their income for a pillow place. Yet it’s not so much the lack of affordable housing that is at fault here, but instead, the low wages. In the words of Times business writer Robert Trigaux: “Tampa Bay is dead last in median household income among the nation’s largest metro areas.”

That’s the nation. That includes Detroit and St. Louis and San Antonio and other metro areas that we often assume we can look down on. Tampa Bay ranked 25th of the 25 largest population centers -- and directly above us were the only other Florida communities large enough to be on the list: Orlando came in at 24th and Miami was 23rd. “We are poor,” Trigaux said flatly.

We should acknowledge that and add a higher minimum wage to our agenda for progress. We especially should start voting like we care about the whole community, instead of electing plutocrats such as Scott and Trump. Both ripped off taxpayers to get rich, and they know nothing of our struggles. Please ponder that and remember at your next voting opportunity.


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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