icon caret-left icon caret-right instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads question-circle facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle

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.

Today’s Most Influential Floridian

With “tax reform” looming over the nation, we are very fortunate to have our own Kathy Castor as the only Floridian on the conference committee that will determine the devils in the tax details. Everything I’ve read about the bill indicates that it is primarily a reverse Robin Hood, stealing from those at the bottom to further enrich those at the top, so we surely need the well-informed, conscientious person that Kathy is. Even conservative media such as the Wall Street Journal warn that this is not real tax reform, much less simplification, but instead is another Christmas tree loaded with presents for the businesses who hire the best-connected lobbyists. A number of reputable analysts assert that it is the beginning of the GOP’s longtime goal of eliminating Social Security and Medicare. Charities are worried about negative effects on them.

Kathy doubtless will be in a distinct minority on the 29-member committee that will reconcile differences between the House and Senate bills, both of which passed with changes literally handwritten in the margins. Ordinary representatives in the 435-member House and the 100-member Senate had no chance to study the entire proposal before their Republican bosses – Senate President Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin – forced a late-night vote that sent the whole mess to the conference committee.

That this was done at Christmas is not accidental. These guys like stealth. They want voters to be busy with holiday activities and not notice that their pockets are being picked. They are akin to the Grinch, willing to steal the holidays and disrupt families because “family values” is merely their election slogan. Kathy’s teenage daughters, however, have been so well reared by her, her husband, and various grandparents that they will understand why millions of other kids need their Mom to be busy with legislation during the holidays. Literally hundreds of millions of working families will be negatively affected by “tax reform,” including the kids’ own peers.

Did you know, for example, that this bill plans to tax the tuition breaks that graduate students get for teaching, even though that is not actual income, but merely a reduction in tuition? Grinch, Grinch, and devils in details. I’m so thankful for Kathy: even if she is in the voting minority, at least she can shame these guys who think education isn’t important – or who don’t think at all. I’m remembering a conversation with a senator a couple of decades ago. He was shocked (or at least feigned shock) when I told him that my older sister took business associates to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl and legitimately wrote that off on her taxes, while my younger sister regularly did the same with NASCAR – but Hubby and I could not deduct the Harvard tuition we paid for our daughter. He didn’t disagree that these were facts, but being a millionaire himself, he apparently never thought about the values that the tax code promotes. Or fails to promote.

Who Else, and How Representative?

The local media almost entirely has ignored Congresswoman Castor’s important appointment, and it was the New York-based Wall Street Journal that answered my question about who else is on the conference committee. From the House, there are nine Republicans and five Democrats – which is wildly disproportionate in terms of party ratio, but Speaker Paul Ryan gets what he wants. The Senate is better balanced, with eight Republicans and seven Democrats, indicating to me that Senate President Mitch McConnell is a smarter and somewhat less arrogant politician who knows he has to appear less partisan to get the final bill thorough the upper chamber.

Unlike what many expected when the Constitution was written, today’s Senate is a better reflection of America than the House. That’s because of gerrymandered House districts, and another complex topic we don’t need to get into right now. Still, it is important to recognize that this joint conference committee, perhaps the most important in decades, has no African-American from either chamber. If I were a leader of the Congressional Black Caucus, I’d mount a campaign for “no taxation without representation.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi had only five appointments to the conference committee, and she used them broadly: Kathy Castor, a Hispanic man from Arizona, as well as men from Massachusetts, Michigan, and Texas. Republican House Speaker Ryan, who had the greatest number of appointees, chose a group that is just as snow-white as his Wisconsin. Going from west to east, his Republican men are from Alaska, Oregon, California, Utah, Texas, and two from Illinois. One of the two women Ryan appointed is from South Dakota and the other from Tennessee – the easternmost of all his appointees. I’m sorry to say that neither woman has an impressive record; the South Dakota one especially appears to be a puppet, given that she has been in Congress less than a year.

Senate leadership, as I said above, did a better job. Its seven Democrats include Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, as well as Patti Murray and Maria Cantwell, both of Washington. All three are smart, experienced legislators. The four men are from Oregon, Delaware, New Jersey (Robert Menendez) and Vermont (Bernie Sanders). The Senate’s Republican delegation is decidedly less representative, with no ethnic minorities and just one woman, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. The men are from Utah, Wyoming, Texas, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, and again, South Dakota.

One of the most important tools in critical thinking is to see what is NOT there. Take a hard look at this black hole, and you will find clear discrimination against the urban coastal areas. The four most populous states now are California, Texas, Florida, and New York – yet this committee will have no one from New York and just one each from California and Florida. South Dakota and Alaska have populations smaller than that of Hillsborough County, and Utah’s population is about that of the Tampa Bay Area, yet each of these three states will have two representatives, for a total of six. Here on the East Coast, New York (the fourth biggest state) and Florida (the third biggest) will have a total of one. Her name is Kathy Castor.

On the Happy Side

One of the biggest changes I’ve noticed since my youth is the growth of empathy, especially among young people and especially for animals. I watched a You-Tube video recently that rather humorously showed a young man trying to rescue a raccoon who was trapped under a fallen tree. The ‘coon, of course, did not understand that this human was being helpful and repeatedly tried to bite him when he got close. Finally the guy threw his jacket over the animal’s face so that he couldn’t bite, got a shovel, and dug under the raccoon until there was enough space for him to free himself.

Similarly, I saw a recording of a man who risked his life in the California wildfires to save a terrified rabbit. If you wish to spend your time this way, almost every day you can find some astounding story of someone doing something they didn’t have to do for an animal. That is so different from when I was a kid. It was routine then to blind a rabbit or deer at night with a car spotlight and then run over it. Granted, a few people did this for food, but mostly it was sport. Or so-called sport. It actually was another power play, another demonstration of dominance. It will end in a generation or two, just as bullying is ending.

Humans are getting nicer. Now let’s just pressure our lawmakers for tax codes that reflect those empathetic values.


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.
Make a comment to the author