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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.

The End is Nigh

This will be the last column before the demise of the outrageous presidential candidacy of busted billionaire Donald Trump, the man who repeatedly cheats his employees, declares bankruptcy to avoid paying his debts, and refuses to release his tax returns – something that every presidential candidate has done for a long time – and yet has the temerity to condemn Hillary Clinton for using the wrong e-mail server, something that has not mattered in any presidential race. Yes, that was a long sentence. And it didn’t even mention his multiple marriages or his history of sexual harassment.

So the only thing I’m going to say about his “October surprise” is this: when did so-called conservatives decide that it was wrong to use a private e-mail server for private matters? Indeed, the opposite has been their long-standing (and the true conservative) position. When computers were new at USF and HCC, for example, every employee was cautioned not to use work computers for personal communication because the machinery belonged to the institution, not the individual. The recent e-mails focus on an aide to Hillary Clinton who was estranged from her worthless husband – and who, probably not coincidently, has a Middle Eastern name. Nothing indicates it was any of the public’s business.

This election is out of Alice in Wonderland, a fantastical case of the most genuinely corrupt and unproven candidate in American history being rewarded with free media to magnify his stupid statements on an issue of little importance. Private vs. public e-mail server? This is the best they’ve got? I’ll be so happy to see November 9!

“She Didn’t, and Even If She Did, She Couldn’t Have”

It’s hard to miss the big billboard on I-275 telling us that the Straz Center is performing “Lizzie – A Killer Rock Musical.” The Straz website says, “History tells us Lizzie was innocent” and that the “legend” gained credibility only because of schoolyard repetition of the ditty: “Lizzie Borden took an axe and gave her father forty whacks, and when she saw what she had done, she gave her mother forty-one.” Like much about the 1892 case, those figures are wrong: the victims suffered appreciably fewer blows. It also reverses the chronology: Lizzie first struck her napping stepmother and then attacked her father when he came home for the midday meal.

Nor was the first victim her mother: she was a stepmother, but had reared Lizzie and her older sister, Emma, since Lizzie was five; their biological mother died when she was two. The girls lived a conventional upper middleclass life in Fall River, Massachusetts, where their father was a merchant. Lizzie had graduated from high school and at age 32, seemed to be on her way to a spinsterhood filled only by church and temperance groups. Both daughters, however, complained that their large home was not in a neighborhood as fashionable as their father could afford and that the family kept only one servant. Frugality particularly extended to food, and much has been made of the smell of the spoiled mutton that was cooking on that fatal noon in July.

With its unlikely setting, the case became one of the first sensationalist murder trials in modern journalism. Reporters descended, exploiting the divisions between old-time New Englanders and the more recent immigrants who toiled in Fall River’s textile mills. Unable to envision a church and temperance lady as justly imprisoned, the era’s leading ladies (almost all of whom had an English heritage) proclaimed her innocence. Many attempted to pin the blame on the Bordens’ Irish maid, while others accepted Lizzie’s vague allegation of an unknown intruder.

Despite strong evidence against her that in all probability would have convicted a man (or a woman of lesser economic standing), Lizzie Borden was acquitted by an all-male jury – the only kind of jury there was in the era. She stayed in Fall River for the rest of her life, even though she was shunned by most of its residents. She used her inheritance to buy a new house, became estranged from her sister, and left instructions that she be buried secretly at night. But was devoted to animals.

Of the many books and articles written about the case, definitely the best title is: “She Didn’t, and Even If She Did, She Couldn’t Have.” I read it decades ago, I think in American Heritage magazine. It stuck in my mind with its perfect summation of the hypocrisy that surrounded Victorian women. The men who composed the jury chose not to believe that a young woman so like their own daughters could harbor enough hatred to commit so heinous a crime. Their acquittal revealed the blinders that many men wore when dealing with women, an embodiment of male refusal to see the actions of women – whether positive or negative – as somehow quite real. Discussed in millions of American parlors, the murders also may be seen as a death knell for patriarchy. It signaled an end to the era of adult daughters who had no lives outside of their fathers’ homes.

And Once More, the Election

I was a political neophyte when my beloved late friend, Helen Gordon Davis, and her friends in the League of Women Voters persuaded voters to amend the Florida Constitution and create what we called “merit retention” for the upper levels of our state judiciary. Unlike the US Constitution, which allows the president to appoint federal judges with the approval of the Senate for life, our state constitution mandated that even the highest levels of judges be elected on the same terms as the lowliest of public officials. Especially incumbent judges found it very hard to campaign without making pronouncements on current cases.

So the League successfully led a reform effort in the 1970s, and simply stated, the governor now appoints members of the Florida Supreme Court. They (and other top appellate judges) are up for merit retention every six years after taking office. Down near the end of the ballot, we voters are asked if we wish to retain Justice So-and-So, and for more than four decades, I’ve always voted “yes.” Even if the individual was not a favorite of mine, I thought the principle was important. This year, not so much. This year, I’ll probably cast a protest vote.

The justices up for retention are Charles Canady, Jorge Labarga, and Ricky Polston. With the exception of Canady, whose father was a good guy back in the day, they are unfamiliar names even to someone who pays attention. I’d ordinarily cast a bland “yes” except for the fact that all three of these men, plus a fourth, created the majority that allowed Amendment One on the ballot. That proposition is highly misleading: its language may sound progressive, but in fact, it protects the current electric companies from competition on solar energy.

Competition is supposed to be at the heart of capitalism and an alleged priority of conservatives, yet these corporations are unwilling to engage in it. Actually, that is the fact already, as utility companies are guaranteed a good profit by the so-called Public Service Commission, which also is appointed by the governor. We used to elect them, too, as well as several members of the Cabinet on which we voluntarily ceded our right to vote.

I’m not at all sure that most voters understand these things, but I am sure that many big businesses believe they can persuade us with advertising. Among the evidence is the robocall we got from former teenage heartthrob Pat Boone. I never was a fan, but I was young when he was a big deal – and clearly the electric companies think that we seniors still are teenagers who will vote their way because of this uninformed California movie star. What an insult to our intelligence!

At the same time, four of the seven Supreme Court justices thought voters intelligent enough to sort through the fraudulent legalisms of Amendment One. Please vote against it and send a message to the forces that would further slow solar energy here in the Sunshine State. And please consider joining me in sending a message to the three men on the court, telling them that we believe in plain and honest language.

One final word: Just three women have been among the hundreds of men who have served on the Florida Supreme Court. The first was Rosemary Barkett, a former nun and law school valedictorian who was appointed by Governor Bob Graham, a Democrat, in 1985. After Democratic President Bill Clinton elevated her to the federal court in Atlanta, we went four years without any woman on the court. Governor Lawton Chiles, another Democrat, appointed Barbara Pariente in 1997 and Peggy Quince, the first African-American woman, in 1998. There have been none since.

Yes, Republican Jeb Bush was elected in 1998 and named no woman to the court in his eight years, nor had Governor Bob Martinez during his term that followed Graham’s precedent. Charlie Crist, then a Republican, served eight years, and again zilch. Now Rick Scott is near the end of his two terms, and nada. Three governors, two decades, and no new women. And the only person who had to run a serious race for retention? The first, Rosemary Barkett. It set a precedent for the kind of race being run against the first woman nominated for president. Let’s send a couple of messages!


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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