Florida editorial roundup

Summary of recent Florida newspaper editorials

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

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May 18

Orlando Sentinel says the long-stalled campaign for equality deserves more Republican support:

There’s been a sea change in public opinion on gay rights in Florida over the past decade. In 2008, 62 percent of voters in the state approved a constitutional amendment restricting marriage to a man and a woman. By 2014, a year before the U.S. Supreme Court declared bans on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, a Quinnipiac University poll showed Floridians favoring marriage equality 56-39.

But when it comes to legislation prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in Florida, Tallahassee is stuck in a time warp. Bills are introduced in the Florida Legislature every year, and every year they get buried in committee. Yet as far back as 2013, a statewide poll by the Bob Graham Center for Public Service found 73 percent of Floridians supported such legislation.

Now some Central Florida Republicans, to their credit, are trying to break the cycle of futility and inequality. As the Sentinel reported, an event in Orlando recently organized by a group called Conservatives on the Right Side of Equality was attended by an array of GOP leaders from Orange County: commissioners, mayoral candidates and legislators, including Winter Park Rep. Mike Miller, who is now running for Congress.

Organizers said each leader committed to support legislation protecting LGBT Floridians from discrimination. Republican backing in Tallahassee is crucial, because the party has strong majorities in both houses of the Legislature, and has controlled the governor’s office since 1999.

John Stemberger, head of the Orlando-based Florida Family Council, told the Sentinel he opposed such legislation, calling it "an unconstitutional weapon to punish free speech and freedom of religion." If that were true, surely courts somewhere would have struck down laws banning LGBT discrimination. But they’re still standing in the 18 states where they’ve been passed.

Florida could join them if legislative leaders would finally allow the bill known as the Competitive Workforce Act to be heard in committee and reach the House and Senate floors for a vote. The bill’s name comes from the view of its bipartisan supporters that Florida will better compete for the best employers and the most talented workers, who are drawn to diverse and creative communities, if it bans discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

For the same reason, a coalition of more than 450 businesses in the state, calling itself Florida Competes, is also backing the bill. There are 10 Fortune 500 companies in the group, including Disney World and Darden Restaurants — not a surprise, considering that at least three-quarters of Fortune 500 companies have their own policies against LGBT discrimination.

Florida law already bans discrimination based on "race, color, religion, sex, pregnancy, national origin, age, handicap, or marital status." Rather than wait on Tallahassee to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list, a dozen counties in the state — including Orange, Osceola and Volusia — have passed their own ordinances. So have 30 municipalities — including Orlando and Mount Dora.

Even so, about 40 percent of Floridians do not live in counties or cities that bar LGBT discrimination. They can still legally be turned away for service at a business, evicted from their apartments, or fired from their jobs based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Gov. Rick Scott’s office, asked about the mission of Conservatives on the Right Side of Equality, told the Sentinel that state agencies don’t discriminate against their employees based on sexual orientation because it’s against federal law — an evasive, narrow answer that is also open to dispute. U.S. Justice Department lawyers argued in court last year that federal law doesn’t protect against LGBT discrimination.

Supporting the Competitive Workforce Act shouldn’t be a stretch for Republicans. The legislation promotes fairness, opportunity and economic growth — all values that resonate with conservatives. More of them need to take a stand for equality in Florida.

Online: http://www.orlandosentinel.com

May 19

Palm Beach Post says Publix has polarized with political contributions to gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam:

Publix, the supermarket giant that ranks high among things that residents love most about Florida, is learning the perils of political participation in our polarizing age.

Recently, it was reported that the beloved grocery chain has given more money to Adam Putnam’s gubernatorial campaign than to any candidate since 1995, and probably in its entire history.

Publix, the heirs to the company’s founder and its current and former leaders have given the Republican $670,000 in the past three years. Or, as the Tampa Bay Times put it, "enough money to buy 74,527 chicken tender subs."

"No other Florida candidate has ever come close to that kind of subsidy from Florida’s largest Fortune 500 company," the Times said. "Its most recent contribution, a $100,000 donation on April 30, was the largest, too, according to the latest campaign finance filings."

Publix immediately ran into a deli-slicer of criticism. That’s largely because Putnam, a 43-year-old former congressman who is now the state’s agriculture commissioner, famously responded to criticism of his fondness for the National Rifle Association by calling himself "a proud NRA sellout" — a not-so-funny wisecrack given the mass shootings at Pulse nightclub in Orlando and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

The backlash against Publix was fierce. It included tweets like this, from state Rep. Carlos G. Smith, D-Winter Park: "How many flowers did I buy from your stores for funerals, graves, + memorials for Pulse + MSD victims? #BoycottPublix"

Publix, shifting quickly to damage-control mode, tweeted that it "has not provided financial support to the National Rifle Association." And it swiftly released a statement meant to distance itself from all controversy: "We support bipartisan, business-friendly candidates, regardless of party affiliation and we remain neutral on issues outside of our core business."

The trouble with this explanation is that, while certainly business-friendly, Putnam has not shown himself to be "bipartisan." He’s not a candidate for centrists. He makes overt appeals to social and religious conservatives and the Trumpian anti-immigrant right.

While in Congress, Putnam voted to roll back requirements for the Voting Rights Act. He pressed for stricter voter IDs beyond driver licenses in a thinly disguised effort to suppress minority votes.

As a candidate for governor, he is pushing a "Florida Families First" agenda that includes promises to "fight for the life of the unborn and make Florida first in protecting life," create an "Office of Faith-Based and Community-Based Initiatives within the Executive Office of the Governor" and establish a "Home School and School Choice Ombudsman."

Putnam’s NRA rating is A+. He has endorsed the open carrying of firearms, and the carrying of guns on college campuses. He criticized Florida’s recently passed law that raised the firearm-purchase age to 21 from 18 and requires mandatory three-day waiting period for firearm purchases.

Sorry, Publix, these are not bipartisan positions.

Publix and Putnam go way back. Putnam was just 22, running for state representative, when Publix made its first donation, for $500, to the local up-and-comer: Publix’s base in Lakeland is 20 minutes from Putnam’s hometown of Bartow.

The generosity seems to go both ways. As agriculture commissioner, Putnam oversees regulation of Publix’s 800 Florida stores. When a TV station reported in 2016 that seven Tampa-area Publix stores failed health inspections, "Putnam responded the next day by pulling the inspections from the department’s website and eliminating the pass/fail grading system," the Tampa Bay Times wrote. "He replaced it six months later with a new rubric. Instead of a failing grade, the worst rating issued now is ‘re-inspection required.’ "

Publix can support whomever it wants. That’s its right as a corporate citizen. With 2010’s Citizens United, after all, the U.S. Supreme Court has given the green light to corporations and unions to spend whatever they like in independent political expenditures.

But in a nation as divided as ours, Publix can’t expect to bankroll a candidate without alienating some portion of its public. Call it a sign of the times, but our system is producing few, if any, "bipartisan" politicians. And now, not even a trip to the grocery store "Where Shopping Is a Pleasure" is immune from the tensions pulling the country apart.

Online: https://www.mypalmbeachpost.com

May 18

The Florida Times-Union says education needs to be a bigger part of the South’s playbook:

We love football here in the South.

Really love it.

And that’s only fitting, because the "State of the South" dossier by MDC, a North Carolina-based nonprofit, is like reading an extensive scouting report on a football team.

The areas of strength are noted:

? The South is more racially and ethnically diverse than ever before in history, and has "shifted from a biracial to a multi-ethnic region."

? The South has been able to reinvent itself as a region with "hubs of excellence and innovation in medicine, health and science, providing the benefits of modern medicine."

? The South "has more affluence, a more diverse economy with a potent corporate sector, a stronger middle class (blacks and Latinos as well as whites) … than it did 50 years ago."

? Major Southern cities Charleston, Biloxi and New Orleans have all "largely recovered" from massive weather-related devastation during the last 15 years; meanwhile, Houston has made strides rebuilding after Hurricane Harvey last fall.

But just as a football scouting report also focuses on a team’s weaknesses, "State of the South" identifies the region’s vulnerabilities, too.

And this one clearly stands out in the MDC report: "Most Southern states still lag the national average in K-12 achievement …"

. Which has been caused by this trend across the South: "(A) decade of budget austerity has left most states with a lower level of investment in public schools … than before the Great Recession."

. Which has led to this rather humbling fact about the South: "In every state in the South, born-elsewhere residents exceed born-in-state residents in the percentage who hold a bachelor’s degree or higher."

. Which presents this huge challenge now facing the South: "To elevate their economies and spread prosperity, Southern states have to rely on — and educate more of — their own at-home citizens to meet the talent deficits that immigration is not erasing."

. Which, if ignored, may have this stark consequence for the South: "(The) pattern of increasing divestment in public institutions could affect long-term upward economic mobility prospects in the region."

Make education a big part of the playbook

No, this is no trivial area of vulnerability. But it’s clear how we in the South should be addressing it:

? First, Southern states — including Florida — must make investing in education an equally high priority for all students, instead of pitting public schools against charters, urban districts vs. rural ones, etc., in some Hunger Games-style "survival of the fittest" battle for funding and resources.

As the "State of the South" report suggests, our region will need the talents of all of our residents to achieve sustainable prosperity.

That means all Southern states have to provide levels of funding that will enable all Southern students to flourish.

? Second, we in the South have to stop rewarding the buffoonish anti-intellectualism embraced by many of our lawmakers and power brokers to justify starving educational systems of needed money.

They justify it by throwing around pandering words and phrases like "elitist," ”snowflakes," ”failing urban schools," ”so-called experts" and "powerful teachers’ unions."

And they get away with it because we let them.

Clearly, that’s a big reason why there isn’t a single state in the South where native residents have as many bachelor’s degrees as fellow residents who were born elsewhere.

This must change.

In a nod to our region’s love for football, let’s put it this way:

If we want tomorrow’s South to keep moving the chains and putting up the points, we need to demand that our leaders make education a bigger part of the playbook.

Just as Southerners will not accept losing football teams, we must not accept underperforming educational systems.

Online: http://www.jacksonville.com

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