Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:
The Palm Beach Post on a proposed law that would make property damage or injury as a result of protests a felony:
Gov. Ron DeSantis is treading dangerously close to authoritarianism. He should stop —now.
Copying whole chapters of President Donald Trump’s playbook, DeSantis showed his would-be strong-man side last week when he proposed a new law aimed at crushing “disorderly” protests. This unneeded measure’s chief feature would create new felony crimes when property is damaged or when people are injured as a result of protests involving seven or more individuals.
Note that violent protests haven’t been a problem in Florida. Note also that the state already has plenty of laws against damaging property or injuring people.
Yet, if the Legislature does approve this law in a special session this fall, the act would no doubt chill peaceful non-violent protest — which is plausibly its real intent, given the potential for massive street demonstrations if the presidential election outcome proves as uncertain and embattled as many now predict. Let’s be clear, this is criminalizing freedom of speech — a foundation of our democracy.
Of course, DeSantis’ other intent is to brandish “law and order” credentials to shore up his standing with conservatives while his popularity plunges among almost everyone else over his mishandling of the coronavirus crisis. Let the record show more than 700,000 Floridians testing positive for COVID-19 and 14,000 dead — while the governor denies, deflects, and dispenses bad advice.
But this wasn’t DeSantis’ only shift toward the autocratic. Also last week, he asked Attorney General Ashley Moody to investigate former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg for contributing $16 million to a group paying outstanding fees and fines for freed felons, to meet the requirements of a Florida law that has knee-capped Amendment 4. The amendment, approved by nearly two-thirds of Florida voters in 2018, was meant to end the Jim Crow-era lifetime ban on voting imposed on most people in this state with felony convictions — despite the fact they’ve served their time. A ban that has kept more than one in five Black Floridians of voting age off the voting rolls.
Moody’s politically motivated complaint — that Bloomberg is potentially “buying votes” — is cynicism itself, given that part of the state’s defense of its law is that if individual felons can’t afford to pay outstanding fines, others could do it for them.
Not content with again trying to cripple Amendment 4, DeSantis wielded his authority to slap down one of its authors personally: Desmond Meade, executive director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition. A former drug dealer who was tossed out of the U.S. Army three decades ago, Meade served his time, graduated from law school, made it onto Time magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people and led the successful voting-rights crusade.
But DeSantis, along with Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, decided Meade wasn’t rehabilitated enough for a pardon. As half of the state Board of Executive Clemency, they blocked Meade’s request last week. (Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried voted to pardon Meade; Moody recused herself.) They revealed themselves as petty men, unable to recognize real citizenship when it stands before them.
Still, DeSantis was not done flirting with top-down rule. Turning to the pandemic, the governor scolded university officials for threatening to suspend students who defy social-distancing measures. He added that he’s willing to consider a college students’ “bill of rights” that would prevent state universities from taking actions against students who want to party without the inconvenience of wearing a mask or keeping social distance, deadly virus be damned.
And DeSantis capped off the week Friday by declaring that the state is now in “Phase 3” of its reopening plans, meaning restaurants and bars can operate at full capacity, even as COVID-19 cases and deaths continue to climb. It is as if, by fiat, he could make the dangers of the virus disappear — or at least feel unimportant.
His move makes it harder for South Florida county commissioners and school officials to control their own jurisdictions. For example, they can’t entirely shut down businesses such as restaurants or impose fines on people who don’t wear face masks.
Protest disparagement, voter suppression, pandemic denial: DeSantis is increasingly operating on the same malign wavelength as his political idol Trump. Like Trump, DeSantis won his election narrowly but governs as if he had a broad mandate. And like Trump, DeSantis has done a woeful job of protecting Floridians from a disaster that has proven far more lethal than any hurricane.
The governor seems desperate to change the subject and to look like a strong leader somehow. The problem is that actions like last week’s make him look more like a bully.
The Daytona Beach News-Journal on the upcoming election:
In a year consumed by whirlwind after whirlwind, the pending November election promises to be a Category 5 maelstrom. Nobody knows exactly what it will look like, but we can all smell the crazy in the air.
Much of the attention is being consumed by the presidential election, which kicked into high gear at last night’s debate. (We’ll have analysis of that tomorrow.) But many voters forget there are races down the ballot, at the state, county and local level, that also deserve attention.
And this year, more than ever, voters must have a plan to ensure their ballots are counted. That starts with mail ballots, which started arriving across Volusia, Flagler and St. Johns counties this week. There’s been a lot of controversy over mail balloting, much of it undeserved — right-leaning pundits and politicians, all the way up to President Donald Trump, have been saying it’s open to fraud and abuse. That’s simply not true, and spreading the rumor could actually do more to disenfranchise Republican voters, who in previous elections have always been more likely to vote by mail.
That trend did shift during the August primary elections, but one thing was clear: Mail balloting skyrocketed across the board, largely due to fear of in-person voting during the coronavirus pandemic. Now, however, there’s growing fear that mail ballots will somehow be delayed or discarded.
It’s hard to imagine local elections officials tolerating that, even for a minute. Vicky Oakes of St. Johns County, Kaiti Lenhart of Flagler County and Lisa Lewis of Volusia County all have well-deserved reputations for defending the sanctity of the ballots entrusted to them. But they can be impacted by circumstances beyond their control. Lewis, for example, was vocally frustrated that about roughly 1,500 primary-election ballots were delayed at the Orlando post office despite an offer by the Volusia officials to come pick up any stragglers.
Here’s how voters can help. They can start by making sure their voter registrations are up-to-date; if they’ve moved, or want to register for the first time, they should understand that there’s an Oct. 5 deadline to take care of that if they want to vote Nov. 3. That’s Monday.
Next, people who want to vote from home should get their requests in now if they haven’t already received their ballot. When they arrive, voters should read the instructions carefully -- voting by mail is not hard, but if a voter skips a step, such as signing the outer envelope, the ballot could be rejected.
Voters should start doing their research on candidates — including those state and local races — as soon as they can. The News-Journal will do its best to publish timely information on the candidates; most also have Facebook pages or campaign websites where you can read about their policy positions and qualifications. As soon as they feel comfortable doing so, voters should complete their ballots and mail them in. That will allow time for them to travel through the mail, arrive at the supervisors’ offices and be checked for any deficiencies — which often can be fixed if there’s time before the Nov. 3 election. For ballots mailed in the days right before the election, that window to “cure” any defects simply won’t exist.
There is a downside to voting early: Sometimes news about a particular candidate surfaces late in the election cycle, and once a ballot is completed and mailed in, it can’t be changed. But in a year defined by the intersection of “unpredictable” and “unprecedented,” it’s probably better to return those mail ballots early. For those who want the benefit of last-minute developments, there’s always early and Election Day voting. But now is the time to decide how you’re voting.
Make your plans. Do your research. Insist that your voice be heard. This year may be unsettling, but voters still have a lot of control if they are willing to take it.
The Miami Herald on how the pandemic is effecting colleges and universities:
Managing Florida’s state university system is a herculean task in the best of times.
Managing in the midst of the coronavirus crisis might be an impossible task, even for three wise men and 50 Nobel laureates.
Still, the State University System’s Board of Governors is obliged to give it the old college try.
Instead, the folks responsible for roughly 350,000 students at Florida’s 12 state universities have thrown up their hands and thrown in the towel.
Last week, Miami Herald reporters Ana Ceballos and Karina Ellwood checked in on Florida’s university campuses, where the kids are learning way too much about how people in high places get away with passing the bucks and blaming the victims.
It’s every university president for himself (and yes, all of them are men) under a governing body that lacks the will and — more important — the power to bring meaningful guidance and resources to a multiplicity of coronavirus-related problems.
Even toddlers can tell when the grown-ups are dithering, so it’s no surprise that teenagers and 20-somethings are feeling adrift and turning to their peers for support.
Neurobiologists tell us that impulse control isn’t fully operational until the mid-20s.
You can’t blame the kids for wanting to gather up and party down in the bars and fancy apartment complexes that surround many institutions of higher learning.
But you can bully and berate the kids, especially when their maskless faces end up on sports channels and social media.
It’s a short-sighted and mean-spirited strategy, but it’s easier than reckoning with mounting evidence that universities are high-priced Petri dishes growing coronavirus germs that inevitably spread to the larger community in life-threatening doses.
The trendlines reported by Ceballos and Ellwood concern prominent Florida epidemiologists and professors of medicine, who show up regularly in national media outlets to plead the case for consistent messaging based upon sound science.
It’s the best way — indeed, the only way — to return to what we used to call normal. But they’re prophets without honor on their own campuses.
SCIENCE SHOULD RULE
That’s because the real power is not with the BOG, and not with the presidents, but with Gov. Ron DeSantis, who, like too many governors before him, has the power of the purse and wields it like King Lear.
University presidents have been doing their best to accommodate DeSantis’ desire to downplay the pandemic and ramp up the campus-based economy, without unleashing a run on the campus clinics.
Absent coherent, system wide guidance, it’s a mess. DeSantis’ impulse-control issues make it a minefield.
Florida State University President John Thrasher stepped in it last week with a memo to students professing zero tolerance for coronavirus-related rule breaking.
DeSantis pitched a fit, went full James Madison and directed his staff to “look into a Bill of Rights” for students.
Thrasher has every right to be angry.
DeSantis has done as much as anybody, and more than most, to advance the party line that partying college kids are just reckless brats who refuse to take “personal responsibility.”
In truth, the kids are alright. It’s the adults who need fixing.