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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.

California Dreamin’

I’ve been thinking about California, and not just because of the wildfires. I did have extended family long ago in Paradise, the ironically named town that literally was wiped out of existence as residents died horrifying deaths. I’ve come up with a suggestion for people who live with the danger of wildfire: build storm cellars. In the tornado ally of the Midwest, people who don’t have basements install underground storm cellars – a small concrete space below the land where they can hide while tornadoes rage above. Millions of people can testify that a storm cellar saved their lives, and they aren’t terribly expensive. California could encourage that: people would just stay in their bunkers while the fire quickly burns over them.

But that’s not the only reason why I’ve been thinking of California. Did you realize what a true blue tsunami its election was? And how steadily that has been going on? The state is attractive to so many people that its population entitles California to 53 of the 435 seats in the US House of Representatives. By comparison, our Florida has the third-largest population, and we hold just 25, or less than half of California’s. Texas is in between, with 36.

Both of California’s US Senate seats have been held by Democratic women since 1992. In comparison, Florida has sent just one woman, Republican Paula Hawkins, back in 1976. Texas’ record is similar, with one Republican woman who won a special election in 1994. But every state gets two senators, even the eight whose populations are smaller than Hillsborough County. My point here, though, is California’s House delegation: after a Democrat won the final recount of the year, just seven of their 53 seats belong to Republicans. Yes, 7 of 53 – and one of those (Duncan Hunter) is under indictment. He apparently spent a quarter-million dollars of donors’ money on items such as a trip to Italy and tuition for his kids’ private school. He’s blaming his wife. We’ll see how that works out.

But California was not always what it is now. When I was young, it was home to the far-right John Birch Society and, of course, Richard Nixon. In 1950, he ran a dastardly campaign for the US Senate against Democrat Helen Gahagan Douglas; it was so vicious that, for decades, no Democratic woman anywhere in the nation attempted to emulate her. As you know, Richard Nixon went on to win the presidency in 1968. He resigned in disgrace in 1974, when his dirty tricks finally caught up with him, and the country, including many conservatives, woke up to the impending theft of democracy.

Among the boys employed by Nixon’s PAC, which bizarrely called itself CREEP, was Roger Stone, who now lives near Donald Trump in Palm Beach and gets late-night phone calls from the apparent insomniac. Parallels? Let’s hope so for the long run. Last month, Florida Democrats won close to a majority of our 25 US House seats, thus taking our first steps to becoming modern California. I believe we can evolve, like California did. So please keep in mind that today’s California is not that of Richard Nixon. Nor even of Ronald Reagan, who famously announced that trees cause air pollution – a comment equivalent in knowledge to the Current Occupant’s claim that Finland rakes its forests.

By the way, the worst wildfire in American history was near Hinckey, Minnesota, in 1894. More than 400 people died as they vainly tried to outrun the flames. As in other areas of science, we make progress in forestry and fire prevention. Instead of denigrating their brave professionalism, we should be grateful to forest rangers and firefighters.

The Supremes

No, not the singing group, but the Florida Supreme Court. The argument over who will appoint its three new members now is moot, as a Republican governor will replace a Republican governor. This must be especially heartbreaking for almost-governor Andrew Gillum, an African American, because the new court that takes office in January will have no African American on the bench. This will be the first time for that omission since Democratic Governor Bob Graham appointed Leander Shaw back in 1983. As insult added to injury, his son, Sean Shaw, lost a race for attorney general last month. And Gwen Graham lost her opportunity to follow her father and become Florida’s first female governor.

Peggy Quince replaced Leander Shaw as an African American on the court, but Florida’s (stupid) requirement that justices must resign at age 70 means she will leave in January – and the Judicial Nominating Committee did not include any African Americans in the list of eleven that it sent to the governor’s office. There are two women on that list, but even in the unlikely possibility that the new governor appoints both, we women will have made no progress, as there have been two women on the court since the late Governor Lawton Chiles appointed Peggy Quince and Barbara Pariente in the 1990s. Pariente also is 70 and will be shown the door. Both have excellent records, and there is no reason for us to lose their wisdom.

The very first woman on the Florida Supreme Court was Rosemary Barkett, a former nun and a Syrian who immigrated via Mexico as a child. Bob Graham made that historic appointment in 1985, two years after he appointed Leander Shaw as the first African American. I remember dancing in Betty Castor’s Tallahassee kitchen after the appointment was announced. Rosemary – a truly amazing woman – has gone on to the lifetime position that the US Constitution gives to federal judges, something that the Founding Fathers thought was a good idea and a real contrast to our Florida early-and-out situation. Especially because merit-retention regularly puts our judges on the ballot, and we can kick them out if need be, and in a state full of retirees, we should reconsider this mandatory retirement. Rosemary, by the way, remains an important judge; she was elevated to the court in Atlanta by President Bill Clinton, another Democrat.

But back to Tally and the state’s highest court. In all of Florida history, we have had just three women in this important position: Rosemary Barkett, Peggy Qunice, and Barbara Pariente. The strong possibility is that we will have fewer, or even none, in the near future. I gathered statistics on this for my work with Congressional Quarterly Press, Women in American Politics, so please believe me when I say that ours is an extremely poor record compared with other states. The first woman on any state Supreme Court was Florence Allen in Ohio back in 1922, the first midterm year after women were eligible. Ironically, 2018 is the 120th anniversary of the first female lawyer in Florida. Louise Pinnell, a corporate lawyer in Jacksonville, was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1898.

So I’m sorry to appear partisan, but facts are facts and should be pointed out. Except for Lawton Chiles’ eight years, Republicans have held the governor’s office for more than three decades, and NOT ONE has appointed any woman to the Florida Supreme Court after Democrats set the precedent in 1985. Not Bob Martinez, nor Jeb Bush, nor Charlie Crist (who was a Republican at the time), and nor Rick Scott. Four Republican governors between 1986 and 2018, and no woman EVER. Zero, zilch, nada. My friends who consider yourselves to be both feminists and Republicans, please take note.


You may remember that last week I said I would continue with two more memoirs of Civil War women. I won’t, because I don’t have space left to do them justice. I’ve had reader comments on that subject, though, so I shall follow through next week. I also get comments when I occasionally write about gardening. Because that is a briefer and less controversial topic (unless I include climate change), I’m going for it.

I’m pleased to report that I have the best mums ever! For the first time during 46 years in Florida, I’ve managed to carry most of them over the summer and didn’t have to buy new ones for Thanksgiving. Usually mums rot in our torrential summer rain, but they are putting on a show this year, with white, yellow, and red/gold varieties, both in the ground and in pots – although pots do better. The same is true of my zinnias, a small white/red variety called Zahara Starlight Rose. They still are budding and blooming now in December, and some in the ground re-bloomed from last year’s seed. Explanation for this good luck? No hurricanes this year, I think, nor many serious storms. Is that climate change? Who knows? If so, I may even be in favor of a limited amount.

…and the End

Other readers have said that they enjoy my occasional musings on words. Another one to ponder: “Untouchable” has exactly opposite meanings. In sports, it means that the athlete is so good that no one can catch him; “untouchable” is a term of awesome respect. In India it is the opposite: it was used for the caste of people whose lifelong assignment was to clean latrines, and who therefore were denigrated as literally unclean and untouchable. I thought of this recently while re-watching the old movie “Gandhi.” If you haven’t seen it, you should. It won a string of awards, including the 1982 Oscar for Best Picture.

Mahatma Gandhi was a young attorney born in India but educated in England; he worked in South Africa until returning to take up the cause of India’s independence from Britain -- as well as ethnic and religious equality among Indians. His wife had been born high-caste, and their arranged marriage took place when they were in their early teens. Kasturbai Kapadia Gandhi eventually bore seven children, all of them boys, and even more than her grown sons, she participated in India’s independence movement. But when she was young, it took her a while to adjust to accept the idea of equality and life without castes. The couple almost broke up when he insisted that she join him in cleaning the outhouse, work that traditionally was limited to Untouchables.

“Touch” reminds me of “cleave,” another example of opposite meanings: to cleave to someone is to cherish them and hold them close, but if you cleave something with a cleaver, you have severed it. Another word usage with similar contradictions: “patron” and “patronizing.” I would be thrilled to have a patron support me, but if someone patronized me, that would be hurtful.

It’s an interesting world, with so much to think about. Like ending a sentence with a preposition. Or the use of “like” instead of “such as” – to say nothing of teenagers’ use of “like.” To end with another cliché, don’t get me started.


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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