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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.

Governor For Sale

Like many of my Democratic friends, I initially was fairly impressed with our new governor, Republican Ron DeSantis.  At least he's better than Rick Scott, we said to each other, and when he held press conferences to tout the environment (while not necessarily doing anything), we thought there was hope that he would be better than the string of Republican governors we've had since Jeb took office twenty years ago, in 1999.  I'm not of that mind about DeSantis anymore, though.


You probably saw his blatant "for sale" sign.  $25,000 gave you ten minutes of his time, and the price went up from there.  A foursome of golf was $100,000; dinner came in at $150,000; and an "intimate dinner" (who knows what that entails?) would set you back a cool quarter of a million.  This so amazingly crude that you wouldn't have thought this guy had served years in Congress, where bribery is supposedly a crime.  Even though partisanship plays a role in prosecutions, lots of congressmen (and yes, I'm choosing "men" deliberately) have been indicted, tried, and even sent to prison for selling themselves.


I've never known a pol, however, who allowed his staff to so unabashedly advertise his time for sale.  And until our Tampa Bay Times found e-mails reflecting this scam, there were takers – including golfing guys from a local monopoly, Duke Energy.  I think it should be illegal for so-called "public" utilities to give any political contributions whatsoever, but that is a topic for another time.


Mainly what struck me about this news is the contrast between DeSantis and our last Democratic governor, the late Lawton Chiles.  I immediately remembered when Lawton gave me a couple of hours of his time – and not a hint of money was exchanged.  When he campaigned for governor in 1990, Dr. Marcia Mann and I elicited a written promise from him to restore the Florida Women's Hall of Fame.  It had begun under Democratic Governor Bob Graham, but lapsed under Republican Governor Bob Martinez. 


The 1991 legislature, pushed by the governor's office, passed a bill that made the Commission on the Status of Women a permanent body, along with its associated Hall of Fame.  The law included an objective process for choosing who got into the Hall of Fame, and when Lawton next came to town, we met at one of those hole-in-the-wall cafes in West Tampa.  Over chicken and yellow rice, I outlined for him the ten nominations from which, under the new law, he was to choose three.  It was a leisurely, thoughtful discussion, and I was very pleased that he recognized several women who were obscure to most people, but whose contributions to Florida and the nation were significant. 


He also opened the Governor's Mansion for a reception recognizing the winners.  I remember, too, that at this reception, I gave Attorney General Bob Butterworth a copy of my second book, American Women and World War II.  I told him it was a gift and refused his offer to pay – but the next week, a check arrived via my NYC publisher.  He had written a personal check for significantly more than the book's price, intending to be sure that he neither was cheating me nor appearing to be bribed by a small gift.


And now we have a governor who puts out price rates for his time.




Probably the main thing that gets guys in trouble re corruption and bribery is that the rules really are different in business and in government, and they are too arrogant to notice.  This is particularly true here in Florida, where we adopted "Government in the Sunshine" back in the 1970s.  Some of our current guys appear to have forgotten that, but it was key to men like Chiles and Butterworth – and they made it clear to their employees.  Unlike business, everything in Florida government is (or at least is supposed to be) open to the public, including disclosure of personal finances if one accepts a position, even a volunteer position. 


I know this as a former trustee for HCC, a member of the county's and the school system's Citizen Advisory Committees, as well as other appointments in which I donated my time.  I willingly filled out the financial disclosure forms every year because I understood that there are people – too many people – who want these appointments because they expect to benefit themselves or their businesses.  When the Sunshine rules were new, some left elective office rather than follow the law.


The Hillsborough County School Board, for example, was composed completely of white men in that era, some of whom so clearly had conflicts of interest that this paid position no longer paid enough, and they resigned.  They complained all the way out the door, but they said good-bye – and granted us a much better board, sometimes composed entirely of women (although not all white).


In addition to financial disclosure, Sunshine requires open meetings, even for appointed boards and committees made up of volunteers.  Meetings must be advertised in advance, and no one can be banned from sitting in on them.  Except for the legislature, that is: they exempted themselves from the open meetings law.  They argued that there were so many of them that it would be impossible to cut secret deals.  We've seen how that worked out.


Nonetheless, Sunshine generally works, and almost all state employees assiduously adhere to its rules, including recording meetings and entering phone calls and e-mails into the public record.  Those rules never apply in business, where secrecy, not openness, often is the preferred value. And a failure to understand the difference between business and government is what gets guys in trouble.  At the highest level, we can see that the Current Occupant believes the rules are the same as in his deal-making days:  he can cut corners, hide the truth, thump his chest, and all will be well.  It won't.  Richard Nixon could have told him.




I'm grateful to journalists who break such stories, especially Steve Contorno of the Tampa Bay Times for his report on DeSantis' plans to create "the fix is in."  I'm also grateful for the paper's support of Paul Guzzo's lengthy investigation into the historical crime of Zion Cemetery, as well as other potentially Pulitzer-winning journalism.  Business columnist Graham Brink is insightful, too, but the viewpoint of his bosses -- that labor is not part of business -- remains stuck in about 1930.


So I'm also grateful for online sources that give me news from more informative newspapers.  You couldn't tell it by the local media or even on national television, but as of this writing, some 50,000 General Motors (GM) workers have been walking the picket lines for two weeks.  More than most strikes, this one is especially worthy of our attention because we made promises that have not been kept.  When the car industry was on the brink of collapse because of Dubya's Great Recession, the United Auto Workers (UAW) made concessions that allowed GM to escape bankruptcy. 


Now that GM's sales are up and executives are taking home millions, workers understandably want to regain their lost ground.  According to the Detroit Free Press, "they want livable raises and affordable health care," as well as a reduction in the number of temporary employees that GM has used to avoid paying all workers on an equal basis.  This is relevant here in Florida, too, where many UAW members have retired.  If President Obama still were in the White House, you can bet that we would be hearing about this, another important struggle for the middle class.  Now, however, the promises made to autoworkers by Republican presidents Bush and Trump apparently don't matter to them or to the media.


Trump's silence is especially egregious because more than any other state, it was Michigan that gave him entrance to the White House.  Instead of standing with those voters who supported him, however, he now mocks Detroit Representative Rashida Talib – whose father was an autoworker.  An immigrant from Palestine via Nicaragua, he and his wife supported fourteen children with union wages.  Because of that and because of Michigan's outstanding system of public colleges, Rashida, the eldest, now is a member of Congress.  That is the sort of opportunity that unions always have encouraged, and the Times should give them more coverage.




As long as I'm on this topic, I'll throw in another.  No way in the world that I would get this story except for semi-volunteer journalists:  the Maine Beacon, an online newspaper specializing in that state, published a report from its labor department re minimum wages.  In 2016, voters passed a referendum increasing the minimum wage from $7.50 an hour to $10; it will rise to $11 and $12 in following years. 


Conservatives, of course, predicted that this would devastate Maine's economy, but the reverse has proved true.  Instead, demand for labor has led to the lowest unemployment rate in years – almost as low as it was during the Clinton administration, back when economic democracy was in style.  The same wailing and gnashing of teeth also occurred four years ago in Seattle, when the city council adopted a minimum wage.  The ordinance was well researched and fairly complex, with variations for small and large employers and whether or not the job offered tips.  Like Maine's law, Seattle's gradually raised wages until it now is more than twice the federal minimum wage, which still is just $7.25 an hour. 


Seattle's was the first such city ordinance, and economists naturally tracked it.  Again, the doomsayers were wrong:  if people are paid more, they will have more money to spend, and the city's businesses are doing well.  The restaurant industry, which was one of the first to complain about being forced to pay a standard wage instead of forcing customers to subsidize their business with tips, turns out to be in great shape.  Jobs in bars and restaurants have grown from 134,000 in 2015 to 158,000 in 2019.


The Maine Beacon concluded from this and other examples: "The majority of Americans support raising our country's pathetic minimum wages; and anytime increases are made, Republicans and fiscally conservative independents are proven wrong."  So, Patrick, how about a raise?



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