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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.

Kudos and Not

Congratulations to State Representative Dan Raulerson of Plant City, who was one of six Republicans in the Florida House wise enough and courageous enough to join with all Democrats in voting against a measure proposed by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, also a local guy who represents Land o’Lakes. Raulerson’s vote nevertheless was in vain, as Corcoran intimidated enough of his fellow Republicans to pass it 73-46, one vote over the required two-thirds majority. It will be up to senators now to stop this latest bit of dangerous foolishness.

No kudos to Corcoran. The issue is this: His proposal would limit the state’s upper-level judges to just twelve years in office. Lesser judges, the county and circuit level ones, would continue to be up for re-election on a regular basis and therefore can hold office indefinitely – and often do, as few candidates dare to challenge them. Most local judicial races occur only when someone retires. Incumbents rarely are on the ballot because no lawyer who may have to face them in court will run against them.

This is not the case for the upper-levels of the judiciary, the appellate courts and the Florida Supreme Court, because several decades ago, the League of Women Voters and the Florida Bar Association persuaded voters to stop electing judges at the highest levels. Instead, we adopted a thoughtful system called “merit retention.” You’ve seen it when you go to the polls, where you are asked: “Should Judge So-and-So be retained?” Every six years, we have an opportunity to express our satisfaction or dissatisfaction with these judges.

It works. It spares these men and women, who are supposed to be independent thinkers on profound legal questions, from the need to beg for money for reelection campaigns. The only time that merit retention intentions were seriously challenged was in 1992, when right-wingers tried to remove Supreme Court Justice Rosemary Barkett, a former nun and the first woman on the court. Their vicious campaign failed, and she has gone on to international fame. She now works with Third World nations to create judicial systems to make them independent of tyrants and dictators, elected or not.

Of course, Richard Corcoran was a boy when Rosemary Barkett proved the merit in merit retention. Perhaps he slept through the civics classes where he should have learned that the Founding Fathers revered an independent judiciary so much that they wrote the US Constitution to protect judges from the whims of passing legislators like Corcoran. The Founding Fathers, whom Republicans claim to revere, mandated in the US Constitution that federal judges, both on the Supreme Court and in federal courts beneath that, hold their positions FOR LIFE. Not for twelve years.

Of course, there are constitutional means of removing a federal judge who is truly insane or corrupt, but in the 228 years of our nation’s history, only a handful of such cases have occurred. Moreover, Florida already has two forms of term limits: merit retention, plus a requirement that all state judges retire at age 70. Corcoran didn’t mention those extant limitations, though, when he said: “We believe that no government job should be for life.”

So what about the Founding Fathers and their opposite opinion, which has stood the test of time? And why this “belief” in inexperience? Why is experience a good employment standard in everything except government? Would he fire a valued worker in his private business simply because that employee had faithfully done his job for twelve years? How do people this dumb ever get elected? We can only be grateful that Corcoran himself will be term limited next year.

And by the way, only two women have followed Rosemary Barkett on the Florida Supreme Court. She was appointed by Democratic Governor Bob Graham, and Democratic Governor Lawton Chiles appointed two women who still serve: Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince. Since 1985, when Barkett joined the court, 32 years have passed, and during that time, we have had four Republican governors: Bob Martinez, Jeb Bush (two terms), Charlie Crist, and Rick Scott. Not one has named one woman to the court. Nada. Zero. Nil. Please think about that, my friends who claim to be both feminists and Republicans.

Homeless US Senator

I guess you’ve seen that US Senator Marco Rubio has been unable to rent an office in Tampa since his Westshore landlord refused to renew the lease because too many protestors were appearing at the building. No other big property owner jumped in to save the day, and Rubio’s staff has worked from home except when they have to meet constituents in person. Then they use coffee shops – no word on who pays for the coffee – or libraries, which actually are a good and free public choice if you are office-less. No word, however, on where his (and your) records are being stored.

US Senator Bill Nelson does not have this problem because he long has had his Tampa office in the Sam Gibbons Federal Courthouse – and back in the day, Representative Gibbons also shared space with other governmental entities, in the old federal building on Zack Street. Sam didn’t mind if he met someone in the elevator who was there to see about a problem with taxes or immigration or any of the other federal issues that Sam understood – or if he didn’t, he welcomed input from ordinary people. Not the case with Marco, who apparently prefers an office in a private building, a place that presents little danger of actually running into someone who is there to talk about government.

And speaking of Senator Nelson, I never saw in any other media the message that he e-mailed in regard to the US Supreme Court confirmation of Neil Gorsuch. Without going into the details of the longed and controversial process of confirming a new justice, I want to spread what struck me about that e-mail. Senator Nelson, who had voted to confirm Gorsuch to an appellate court, decided to vote differently this time not so much because of the partisan imbroglio, but because he studied Gorsuch’s recent decisions and was appalled at how frequently the judge had upheld corporate interests over those of workers.

The case I found most compelling was that of a truck driver who had been fired because he left his broken-down rig by the side of the road to take shelter during a blizzard. Gorsuch voted to uphold the firing, apparently believing that the driver should have frozen to death rather than leave the truck. I can only wonder how many truck drivers voted for Trump, who appointed this ice-veined man?

And just to continue to beat the drum, Neil Gorsuch is the 113th person to serve on the US Supreme Court. Four have been women.

Libraries, Left Exits, and More – All in One Section

I mentioned libraries a bit back, which reminded me that I heard a radio report about increased usage of libraries by immigrants. Library philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, an immigrant himself, would be so pleased.

I heard this in the car. I never use electronic equipment while driving, but there was plenty of time to get out a pencil and paper to make a note saying “libraries/immigrants” while sitting at Malfunction Junction. Actually, the malfunction has moved further east since the recent interstate rebuilding. The gridlock now is not so much because of the merger of I-275 and I-4, but instead caused by the left exists and entrances that DOT engineers decided to add.

Those of us going west on I-4 now must expect that big trucks from the Port of Tampa will enter the interstate, usually at slow speeds, in the far left lane -- and many will want to get over to the far right lane to head north on I-275. I love the Selmon Connector and have wanted this link between the Crosstown and I-4 for decades, but these new left exits and entrances are dangerous. This is especially true during winter and spring holidays, when millions of cars with out-of-state plates come to a screeching halt while trying to figure out how to cross four lanes of traffic.

Unfortunately, I suspect that some of our locals compound the danger by speeding down the nearly empty exit-only lane for downtown -- and then, at the last minute, appeal to someone kind enough let them into the lane where they knew all along that they wanted to be. I’d like to throw something at them, but I try to be a good citizen and wait my turn in the left lanes. Still, I keep seeing in my mind the train that could have run down the median if Governor Scott hadn’t been so pig-headed as to refuse the money available from President Obama. Some of those spring breakers probably would love to ride a train. But lacking that, DOT, let’s start with a sign about three miles out telling snowbirds that I-4 will end soon. There is no such notification, and I’ll bet that every day thousands of people wonder where the road went.

So I not only had time to write myself the above-mentioned note, but also a note that I heard it on WUSF Radio – which reminded me that, as I understand it, WUSF TV soon will go off the air. Did you know? And did you know that there’s a proposal floating around USF that apparently will abolish the College of Education, at least as currently constituted? At a time when we need well-prepared teachers more than ever? And when we know more than ever to teach teachers, especially about autism, dyslexia, and other issues unknown when I minored in ed. Someone should be writing about these things.


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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