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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.

Flying High

Did you notice that the governor got out of his office recently to visit several districts of legislators who want to cut back on Enterprise Florida and on Visit Florida? These taxpayer-funded agencies are only quasi-public, and allegations of improper spending have been around for years. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, Republican of Land ‘o Lakes, wants to de-fund or even abolish them, and his fellow Republican, Governor Rick Scott wants to continue business as usual.

Going to a lawmaker’s district to complain about him is virtually unprecedented, and it will be interesting to see how this internecine battle between Republicans works out. Right now, I’d say that Scott is losing. People always say that want to cut back on governmental agencies – at least until their own ox is gored – and because the governor sings that song in most cases, this exception reveals the fundamental hypocrisy of his economic views.

But I’m glad, because I trust that he had to use highways and city streets for at least some of these visits. Usually his private plane just sails between Tallahassee and his home in Naples, so he seldom sees the traffic that the rest of us face every day. He sold the state plane that used to be available to poorer members of the Cabinet, so now they too have to use public transportation of some sort – and perhaps that thought motivates the House leader. Our traffic, including his in Land o’Lakes, just gets worse and worse, so if the governor ended up stuck on Florida’s interstates, that would be a very good experience for him.

He needs to see firsthand the result of his rejection of federal highway and rail funding, which he turned down simply to spite the Obama administration. Very smart, that businessman. And very privileged, as when he was head of Hospital Corporation of America, he stole enough money from Medicare to afford to fly high above us. Please, voters, start paying attention!

Same Song, Second Verse

My sisters and their husbands visited recently – and that fits right into my tribulations on traffic. The Arkansas folks flew into Orlando because of a cheaper fare, and then spent most of Friday afternoon on I-4. They had reservations at the downtown Embassy Suites; Younger Sister had stayed there before, and she wanted to show off the great view of the bay to her husband. While they were sitting on I-4, Older Sister from Georgia and I sat in Brandon traffic because I wanted to show her the Art Factory at Winthrop Village. We intended to meet each other at the Embassy Suites bar, and Hubby had the good sense to use back roads for himself and our other brother-in-law.

But all of us came to a dead-end in front of the convention center and its related Embassy Suite hotel. As you know, traffic pours off of the one-way Platt Street bridge, goes under the convention center, and then on to the entrances to I-275 or the Crosstown – usually at great speed. On that day, however, unhelpful Tampa cops had closed the lane next to the hotel and tried to merge the four-lane Platt Street traffic into two lanes. A sign said the far right land was “reserved for buses, limos, and Uber,” and a half-dozen of the city’s finest were enforcing that – even though none of those forms of transportation were anywhere in sight. I managed to get into the lane next to the closed lane, and a cop (irrationally) instructed me to go around the block and he would let me in on my second pass. Would you believe that it took more than a half-hour to go around the block? Who’s in charge of making such a mess?

Worse, when we finally got into the hotel, the bar was far from relaxing. Hundreds of young people crowded the lobby, wearing clothing they doubtless bought from their employer, It Works. I finally figured out that this is a body wrap for temporary weight loss, but I think it must function primarily as a pyramid scheme because several wearers of “It Works” paraphernalia were grossly overweight. We escaped with our lives from the bar and took a $36 van ride to the Westshore restaurant where we had reservations. While, of course, paying for parked cars downtown.

But that wasn’t the end. After another expensive ride back, we dropped Sister and Brother-in-law at the hotel – and they checked out at midnight. The young people who had taken it over were so loud that it was impossible to sleep, so they moved to a quiet place near USF. And unwilling to go anywhere near downtown again, they cancelled the reservations that we had for the next night at Ybor City’s Columbia.

The really interesting thing, though, was that as they were taking the elevator down to check out, they met one of the few older people with It Works – a woman probably in her late thirties. She sympathized – and volunteered, “we’ve been kicked out of every city we’ve been in.” So does anyone vet the organizations that rent the convention center? Is there no limit to what taxpayers are expected to put up with in our own hometowns?

And Something That Finally Is Working Out

After many years of lawsuits, investigations, firings, and complaints of malfeasance, the Tallahassee mansion called “The Grove” finally will open to visitors next month. I’ll want to go, as I have since I first spotted the deteriorating house hidden behind trees some forty years ago. Its oldest parts were built by Richard Keith Call and his wife, Ellen Kirkman Call, who had borne the first white child in the Tallahassee area. He was an associate of Andrew Jackson, Florida’s first territorial governor and later president, and Call personally led troops in the Second Seminole War. That erupted in late December 1835, and Ellen Kirkman Call died two months later. She had given birth to six babies in ten years, but only two of them survived more than a few days.

One of those two was Ellen Call Long, and she occupied the mansion for decades. She revered her father, who died of natural causes during the Civil War. Both he and she opposed secession -- but he was old and his opinion didn’t matter to the hotheads who controlled the legislature. Her opinion mattered even less, and Florida seceded from the Union on January 10, 1862. When the war ended in April 1865, Tallahassee was the last Confederate capital to surrender to federal troops. By then, Governor John Milton had killed himself.

Ellen Call Long, though, led the first steps to reconciliation. Although historians give her almost no credit for it, she organized what essentially was the first Memorial Day, on June 11, 1865, just weeks after the war ended. A group of Tallahassee women gathered to plan cemeteries and otherwise honor the dead. They passed profoundly thoughtful resolutions, including a vow “to do all that women can do to stem the tide of bitterness…and angry feelings. We will practice and teach forbearance and patience… [We will] make provision for the education of as many children of deceased soldiers as is compatible with [our] means.”

Ellen Call Long lived out her days at The Grove and wrote an appreciable amount of Florida history, as did her niece, Caroline Mays Brevard. Other members of the Call family expanded the mansion, and yes, that street in Tallahassee is named for them. The most recent occupant was Mary Call Collins, who allowed her husband, Governor LeRoy Collins to live there. You may remember LeRoy Collins, one of very few Southern governors who responded intelligently to the racial integration movement of the 1950s and 1960s. He died at The Grove in 1991, and Mary Call Collins followed in 2009.

Our current Governor’s Mansion, built in 1956, is nearby and greatly resembles The Grove – except that it has a swimming pool. See if you can get Rick Scott to let you in. Bob Graham and Lawton Chiles held lots of events there, but the current occupant…


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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