Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

___

Dec. 15

Tampa Bay Times on Gov. Ron DeSantis' messaging on the coronavirus pandemic:

Gov. Ron DeSantis might as well come out and say it. No amount of bad news will change his mind on how to handle the coronavirus pandemic. A recent report by the White House Coronavirus Task Force, led by Vice President Mike Pence, paints a bleak picture for the Sunshine State. But even as infections surge, DeSantis keeps plowing ahead with his message that everything will be fine. It’s irresponsible, and Monday’s arrival of a vaccine is no magic bullet.

The White House report, made public Saturday, urges state leaders to take immediate action to slow the virus’ spread. Officials should close or severely limit indoor dining, limit capacity at bars and issue stronger policies around mask wearing, the report states. Yet as the Tampa Bay Times’ Kirby Wilson reported, these are the same public health measures that DeSantis has for months publicly assailed as ineffective.

The governor’s office has refused to publicize the task force reports; the Dec. 6 report was obtained by the Center for Public Integrity. One reason may be the unvarnished nature of the task force’s warnings. “Florida is in the red zone for cases,” the report notes, citing “unrelenting community spread and inadequate mitigation.” It called for the state and local governments to redouble efforts, encouraging greater use of masks, social distancing, increased testing and limits on indoor gatherings. “Mitigation efforts must increase,” the report warned, before adding in boldface: “Begin warning about any gathering during (the) December holidays.”

Of course, DeSantis is taking his own tack. He has ruled out any further business restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of the virus, arguing such measures do not work and harm the economy. While the report noted that Florida was doing better in some metrics than other states, such as in the rise in new cases, the task force said that “rankings are almost irrelevant as the entire country is surging.” While other states have moved proactively to contain the recent surge, DeSantis has chosen instead to focus public attention on the arrival of vaccines, which began to trickle into the Tampa Bay area on Monday. But the White House warned that simply waiting for a vaccine was not practical.

“The current vaccination implementation will not substantially reduce viral spread, hospitalizations or fatalities until the 100 million Americans with comorbidities can be fully immunized, which will take until the late spring,” the task force report warned. “Behavioral change and aggressive mitigation policies are the only widespread prevention tools that we have to address this winter surge.”

Why has the governor refused to regularly provide these reports to news organizations? Is DeSantis trying to tamp down the experts’ advice, which runs counter to his strategy? Is he unwilling to have his position publicly challenged? Florida reported 11,699 new cases on Friday, the most since the state’s summer viral surge. What’d the governor do? He tweeted a photo that night of his family enjoying a high school football game, where they — like most in the crowd — were maskless. Setting a bad example has effectively become the state’s policy.

DeSantis is doing his own thing. Florida’s surgeon general is nowhere to be found. And the state’s mayors and local health care institutions are filling the leadership void. They should spare no effort to underscore the White House’s recommendations. Florida, and the nation, face a tough holiday and a long winter, and the public deserves to hear the experts’ advice.

Online: https://www.tampabay.com

___

Dec. 15

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel on a historic Monday with the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S. and electors meeting to certify Joe Biden as the next president:

Monday was a day like no other for the world’s oldest continuous democracy.

There were two triumphs for the American people: one for medical science, the other for the Constitution and the independence of the judiciary. In separate ways, they demonstrated how greatly facts matter.

But both were also tinged with tragedy.

Doing what used to be routine, the presidential electors confirmed that Joseph R. Biden Jr., and Kamala Harris will be inaugurated as president and vice-president on January 20. That was obvious and should have been accepted by everyone more than a month ago, following the cleanest and best-run election in anyone’s memory.

Most of us know a nurse or two. If you do, you also know how hard they work. Nobody would blame them for kicking back and relaxing when their shifts are done. But for some nurses at Northside Hospital , the end of a shift...

Simultaneously, medical science began dispensing the first vaccinations against a pandemic that had manifested the deadly effect of what some loosely describe as “alternative facts.” President Donald Trump, to whom actual facts are inconvenient, lost the election in large part because of his indifference to the coronavirus and his incompetence in dealing with it.

As the nation counted 306 electoral votes for Biden and Harris, it also surpassed 300,000 deaths from the virus, more than all the nation’s deaths in battle during World War II. It is the world’s worst record since the pandemic began.

Science, which has given us the vaccine, is based on facts to the absolute exclusion of wishful thinking.

That rule applies as well to the law. So it was that in nearly 90 rulings, state and federal courts found not one significant fact to support Trump’s attempt to subvert and overturn Biden’s election.

That the Constitution still works owes not only to Trump’s factual bankruptcy but to a vital founding principle that’s too easily and often taken for granted: The independence of the judiciary.

Trump seems to have assumed that there would be judges as cynical and corrupt as he is. So did an alarming number of his supporters. Their campaign to win in the courts what they had lost at the polls went to the last day.

The tragedy is that there should never have been any doubt about it, and yet Trump and large elements of his political party mounted a treacherous campaign to subvert our democracy by dashing the public’s faith that our elections are honest. Millions of people, indeed a majority of Republicans, believe that the presidency was stolen for Biden.

Every time Trump tweets or speaks that monstrous lie, he chips away at the foundation of our democracy, and so do the members of his political party who are too cowardly or craven to contradict him.

Why? In his boundless vanity, Trump may well have deluded himself that day is night and truth is falsehood. And if he is not that remote from reality, then it’s a shrewd tactic for keeping control of the Republican Party and squeezing more millions of dollars from credulous citizens.

But that neither explains nor excuses the participation and culpability of the Republican officeholders who have been helping him deconstruct our democracy, incite violence in the streets and inspire death threats to election officials and others who carried out the laws. Trump’s neo-fascist Proud Boys are no longer just standing by.

It was politics over patriotism when 18 state attorneys general, including Florida’s Ashley Moody, asked the Supreme Court to subvert the election and nearly two-thirds of the Republicans in the House of Representatives, including 10 of Florida’s, submitted a brief supporting them. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Trump clone, had called shamelessly for Republican legislatures to override Biden’s victories.

The court’s swift and unanimous refusal last Friday to disenfranchise 20 million voters should have put an end to it, but some, including Florida’s home-grown insurrectionist Matt Gaetz, are plotting a last-gasp challenge when Congress meets in joint session Jan. 6 to count the electoral votes.

They’ll fail, but as Benjamin Ginsburg, a senior Republican election lawyer remarked about Monday’s vote, “There’s no way to upend the election results today. Causing trouble is a much lower bar.”

It’s not good trouble.

In an environment where resignations on principle are rare, one stands out. Paul Mitchell, a retiring representative from Michigan, resigned from the Republican Party with a warning that his unyielding colleagues were risking “long-term harm to our democracy.”

Unlike their House counterparts, Republican senators began congratulating Biden as the electoral tallies rolled in. Even Majority Leader Mitch McConnell finally did, however grudgingly. Four years ago, it should be remembered, Hillary Clinton and Congressional Democrats promptly paid their due to Trump even though he had lost the popular vote.

The election has put an end to Trump’s control of the government but not, at least not yet, to his malign influence over a once-great political party that has largely become his personality cult. The Republican Party must find a way to overcome that or it, and the country, have an uncertain future.

A disturbing contrast between now and the time of another lawless president, Richard M. Nixon, is that the Republicans who told him it was time to go have been missing in action now.

But at least the courts have held the line. The litigation to keep Trump in power set what will surely be all-time records for frivolous and futile filings.

The three justices Trump appointed voted to let his presidency end as the voters instructed, mocking his claim that he needed Amy Coney Barrett confirmed before the election to break any tie in his favor.

No doubt he would fire them if he could. It brings to mind why Alexander Hamilton described a judiciary not subject to the executive’s whim as “an excellent barrier to the despotism of a prince.”

As many of Trump’s predecessors learned the hard way, a federal judge’s obligations to the president end when they thank him for the appointment.

That independence is fragile, though, depending too much on who’s president and who govern the states. Both Trump and DeSantis have sought to politicize the judiciary with judges chosen as much, if not more, for their conservatism as for their qualifications. Under both, membership in the Federalist Society, which espouses an exceptionally narrow view of constitutional jurisprudence, has attained excessive influence.

DeSantis and his predecessor Rick Scott have been frank about trying to mold Florida’s judiciary to their own conservative points of view. They could do that because of how the 2001 Legislature had sacrificed independence to politics. It enabled the governors to appoint all nine members of each judicial nominating commission instead of merely three. The Florida Supreme Court’s hard-right turn, in which it has recently discarded major precedents, is one result.

There will be appropriate legislation in 2021 to restore the independence of the Florida nominating commissions and, through them, the Florida judiciary. No forthcoming legislation will encounter more difficulty nor be nearly as important. The 2020 presidential election shows us why.

Online: https://www.sun-sentinel.com

___

Dec. 13

The Palm Beach Post on Ron Filipkowski's resignation from the Judicial Nominating Commission:

Ron Filipkowski is such a tried-and-true Republican that he named his son Ronald Reagan Filipkowski.

But the former state and federal prosecutor is no supporter of Donald Trump. He is dismayed by what’s happened to the GOP, which he describes as “more of a personality cult that worships a supreme leader.”

And as the COVID pandemic has raged on, Filipkowski has revolted against the “reckless and irresponsible” policies of Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The last straw for Filipkowski was last week’s raid by Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents, their guns drawn, into the home of Rebekah Jones, the Tallahassee data scientist who has accused DeSantis of fudging data to minimize the effects of the pandemic in our state.

The agents were serving a warrant in an effort to find out who hacked into an emergency communications channel and sent a message to 1,750 state workers: “It’s time to speak up before another 17,000 people are dead. You know this is wrong. You don’t have to be a part of this. Be a hero. Speak out before it’s too late,” the anonymous email said.

“What’s the crime here?” Filipkowski asks. Even if Jones sent the message, which she denies, “her crime is her sending an email telling people to tell the truth?”

He added, “You don’t send 12 armed officers to raid her computer for doing that. That’s Gestapo. That’s authoritarian dictator tactics. That’s not America.”

And so, last Tuesday, Filipkowski resigned from the Judicial Nominating Commission, which picks judges for appointment. He had served for 10 years, appointed first by then-Gov. Rick Scott and again by DeSantis. “I no longer wish to serve the current government of Florida in any capacity,” his resignation letter read.

Thus, Filipkowski became one of the few outspoken Republicans who have refused to be complicit in their party’s grotesque behavior during the twin crises now dividing the country: the COVID-19 pandemic and the refusal of Trump to accept his loss to President-elect Joe Biden.

Only 27 of the 249 Republican members of Congress, when asked by the Washington Post, would state the plain fact that Biden won the 2020 presidential election. Among those who excuse Trump’s attempts to subvert the democratic process are Florida Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, whose incessant scolding of anti-democratic regimes apparently applies only to Latin America.

On Wednesday, the attorneys general of 17 Republican-led states, including Florida’s Ashley Moody, joined Texas in a nonsensical lawsuit demanding that the U.S. Supreme Court invalidate the voting in four states that Biden carried. The court rejected the case Friday.

Their craven conduct stands in contrast to election officials in Georgia, Arizona and Michigan who have defended their vote counts, and recounts, despite pressure from Trump personally and death threats from Trump extremists.

Credit, too, goes to the judges — many appointed by Republicans, some by Trump himself — who have rejected more than 50 lawsuits preposterously alleging massive fraud while conspicuously lacking evidence.

History may well record that it was the resilience of our institutions that held back threats to the peaceful transition of power following Biden’s decisive election. But those institutions require the integrity of individuals within them, who find the bravery to oppose the throng and insist upon the truth when power promotes a lie.

Online: https://www.palmbeachpost.com