Florida editorial roundup

August 14, 2019 GMT

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

Aug. 13

The Orlando Sentinel on efforts to consider moving the capital from Tallahassee to central Florida:

Earlier this year, state lawmakers decided that Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez should have an office in Miami, allowing her to work outside of Tallahassee and closer to home from time to time. Florida’s Supreme Court justices are allowed to have remote offices as well.

The developments are a notable trend because they’re a tacit admission that Tallahassee is the center of government in name, but not in geography.

The only way to make Florida’s capital less convenient for the public would be to house it in Pensacola. The drive from Miami — where Nunez lives, and one of the nation’s biggest metro areas — to Tallahassee is more than 480 miles. That’s like driving from Orlando to Georgia’s capital of Atlanta, except about 50 miles shorter.

Tallahassee as the center of government made good sense in 1824, when it was established as the capital between population centers in Pensacola and St. Augustine.

Nearly two centuries later — need we say it? — Florida has changed.

That’s why state Sen. Kevin Rader of Boca Raton wants to pass a law next year that would study moving the capital to Central Florida.

It’s just a study, but Tallahassee traditionalists are likely to smugly ignore Rader’s proposal, just as they did when he introduced the same bill during the last lawmaking session.

We’re not sure why people are so afraid of simply examining the cost of moving the capital, along with the impact on the public that’s forced to travel to Tallahassee to participate in government. Rader’s bill wouldn’t commit the Legislature to doing anything beyond that.

Maybe opponents are concerned a study might find the cost of relocating isn’t as astronomical as everyone supposes, and that the benefits of a more convenient capital for millions of Floridians might outweigh the costs.

In any event, where’s the harm in taking a look?

By doing so, the Legislature could at least give the appearance that it cares about people having to drive nine or 10 hours to be heard at a committee hearing in Tallahassee.

A shorter drive might also lessen the sting when those same people, after driving a full day to have their voices heard, are turned away. That’s what happened in March when a Senate committee halted testimony from the public on a law banning sanctuary cities after hearing from just five speakers.

Public be damned is one thing, but the state’s distant capital also means more time on the road for lawmakers, keeping them from families and constituents. The state might get better candidates for office — and candidates less tethered to powerful special interests — if it didn’t require months far away from home in exchange for the princely sum of less than $30,000 a year.

On the other hand, you can imagine that Tallahassee’s remoteness works pretty well for lobbyists, whose full-time jobs revolve around cozying up to lawmakers. For them, the farther from prying eyes the better.

The idea of moving Florida’s capital is a well-worn argument, we know that. The last serious attempt in 1967 prompted the Legislature to build a 22-story government office building, which was completed 10 years later.

In a 1970s version of trolling, a plaque was installed in the new tower commemorating the South Florida legislator who dared to suggest moving the capital closer to his constituents. That’s what you get when you challenge the Tallahassee status quo — public humiliation.

If the Legislature isn’t willing to even consider the notion of gathering some facts, as Rader’s bill does, lawmakers should at least be open to exploring new ways to bring government closer to the people.

Is there no way for the public to testify at committee hearings through Skype or similar technology? Could lawmakers use similar means to participate in certain types of hearings? When the Legislature isn’t in session, why not hold more committee meetings throughout the state?

Can more records be placed online so people can see what their government is up to? How about instantly posting lawmakers’ emails and texts?

Is it possible to relocate certain government functions out of Tallahassee when it makes geographic sense?

Lawmakers also could change secretive practices that isolate the public and make it all the more urgent to watch their every move in real time.

Practices like loading 20 hours of bills into two hours of meeting time and then racing through each one with no substantive input or debate. They could conduct budget negotiations in public, rather than making those decisions in secret.

They could add stronger rules to prevent legislators and special interests from introducing eleventh-hour ideas, amending one unrelated bill onto another so they can sidestep objections, or cramming controversial policies together with broadly supported ones to force all-or-nothing votes.

What we have right now is a failure of imagination, and a status quo that works just dandy for powerful interests but less so for the people government is supposed to serve.

Maybe that accounts for why the idea of moving the capital closer to the people won’t go away.

Online: https://www.orlandosentinel.com/


Aug. 12

The Tampa Bay Times on possible challenges for Florida’s chief resilience officer:

Florida’s first-ever chief resilience officer is saying the right things about preparing the state to cope with climate change. That alone is a welcome improvement from former Gov. Rick Scott’s administration. But Julia Nesheiwat will need to work closely with local officials and raise her profile in Tallahassee for this office to reach its potential. Florida is uniquely vulnerable to a warming climate, and its response must be equally distinct.

Nesheiwat earned an early vote of confidence with her first extended interview last week, freely acknowledging the challenges of climate change — “it’s here, it’s real” — and the implications for Florida, which could include new limits on development in flood-prone areas. That straight talk and grasp of reality is a stark reversal from the environment under Scott, a climate skeptic who did little during his tenure to prepare Florida for the flooding associated with rising seas, saltwater encroachment into the drinking water supply and other impacts of a warming climate.

Nesheiwat has not laid out a specific agenda, reasonably choosing to spend the near-term compiling an assessment of all current efforts by local governments and other agencies to deal with climate change. In the absence of state leadership under Scott, more and more local governments tried to plug the gap by initiating resiliency efforts on their own. In the Tampa Bay area, St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Largo and other area government agencies have hired the equivalent to Nesheiwat to coordinate climate strategy at the local level. Tampa Mayor Jane Castor has included such a new position in next year’s city budget. Across the state, resilience coalitions are being formed at the regional level, including one in Tampa Bay involving six counties and 21 municipalities. There is plenty of work going on, and Nesheiwat will need to coordinate and support these efforts so that the state and local governments are working with one vision and common goals.

Gov. Ron DeSantis deserves credit for establishing a point person at the state level to bring order and collaboration across these layers of government. While Nesheiwat has not endorsed a development ban along the coastline, she wants to work closely with the Florida Department of Transportation on the placement of new roads and bridges. She also envisions working with homeowners and businesses as they manage climate-related threats to their properties and livelihoods. Her office could be a gateway for state and federal grants as communities look to harden their infrastructure. She should also make resiliency a high priority for the Legislature. A strong advocate speaking for the governor could be a powerful tool for public health and safety when lawmakers meet next week to draft the next state budget.

Of course, the proof will be in the results, and the governor has a huge stake in this effort. While education is a component, the focus must be action-oriented, with this office leading the way for smarter planning, more durable infrastructure and strategies for combating the health, safety and economic impacts that warming poses. A 2014 national climate assessment found Florida is squarely in the cross-hairs of climate change, with Tampa Bay, Miami and Apalachicola judged as among the most vulnerable places in the nation. There is no more time to lose in getting this office — and this state — up to speed.

Online: http://www.tampabay.com/


Aug. 10

The Ledger of Lakeland on Republican U.S. Rep. Ross Spano’s comments about climate change:

This week U.S. Rep. Ross Spano gave an interview that his political foes surely will use against him in 2020. But the criticism aimed at Spano only demonstrates how some selectively wield science as a club to bash political adversaries, even as they “deny” science themselves.

The Dover Republican, whose district includes Lakeland and much of western Polk County, told WFLA in Tampa that he was unconvinced that mankind’s effect on climate change was as dramatic as claimed by scientists or environmental activists.

“I’m willing to listen. I’m not an unreasonable guy,” Spano said, “but what I’ve seen so far doesn’t prove to me that man has had the influence that some people has (sic) said.” When reporter Evan Donovan asked about the overwhelming, near-unanimous scientific consensus contrary to Spano’s belief, the congressman replied that he based his views on “conflicting reports.”

What Spano really objected to was the condescension the true believers direct at those who share his view and are willing to say they don’t know or doubt. “Among the academic community, and even among the political community worldwide, there is an inexorable push to basically force people to accept that it is true. And if you speak out against it, if you say ‘No, no, let’s talk about the facts,’ — well, then you’re an idiot, you’re stupid,” he noted.

Spano then pointed out, correctly, that in the 1970s the media were widely reporting on scientists proclaiming the world was cooling and the coming of a second ice age. “Let’s not just accept and swallow everything,” Spano added.

Democrats pounced. Noting Spano related the debate to the medical community once embracing bloodletting as a cure, the Florida Democratic Party said in a statement, “Spano’s choice to compare climate change to bloodletting shows how little Spano knows about scientific research since the reason climate change holds up to scrutiny comes from rigorous testing and questioning under the scientific method.”

The longtime talking point Spano referred to is that 97% of scientists agree man is the cause of global warming. Discussing this, Spano is not wrong to cite the arrogance of environmental activists. In a 2014 article, Scientific American noted that Organizing for Action (OFA), which was a hefty part of President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, once released a video suggesting that those who disputed its message on climate change “must be very stupid.” Dan Kahan, a professor of psychology at Yale University, told the magazine, “We live in a world where the people who make the videos like the OFA one have attached a meaning to this argument — 97 percent of scientists (believe in human-caused global warming). It’s a bumper sticker, and it says ‘(expletive) you’ on it” — which is usually rendered in a more diplomatic fashion by calling doubters “deniers.”

That’s about where we are. Which means Spano is also not wrong about the tendency of climate activists to smother dissent. This is antithetical to the scientific process, which for eons has advanced our knowledge by repeatedly rethinking and retesting theories. Climate change seems to be the exception. The author Marc Morano, for one, has pointed to several leading scientists who dispute the “97%” consensus, yet are shouted down.

But Spano’s comments are useful because they help illustrate how disingenuous the climate change true believers are.

For example, many in “the party of science,” as Democrats like to refer to themselves, who mock Spano for the bloodletting remark condone the slaughter of human life almost 1 million times a year by denying life begins at conception. Many of them deny that race or gender are biological facts, but are instead “social constructs,” or deny that humans, based on their race or sex, are inherently different, even though science repeatedly tells us differences exist. A few months ago scores of Democrats came out in favor of the Green New Deal, which seeks to shutter all nuclear power plants, even though science has shown its efficacy, safety and cleanliness are beyond doubt. In a 2017 article New Republic editor Eric Armstrong noted that the “liberal obsession with things that are ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ often also clashes with science.” He observed that six of 10 liberals believed that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) were unsafe to eat, even though “based on reviews of more than 900 studies, every major health organization in the world ... has confidently declared GMOs safe to eat.”

Two points. If you disagree with Spano and those who think as he does, work harder to convince them. Secondly, no avenue should of scientific inquiry be closed. After all, scientific progress is driven by doubters, dissenters and the undecided.

Online: https://www.theledger.com/