Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:
The South Florida Sun Sentinel on honoring the legacy of U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings:
It’s rare that a politician in Florida is so popular that he’s literally on a first-name basis with almost everybody.
Alcee Hastings was that man. Instantly recognizable simply as Alcee, he was the senior member of the Florida congressional delegation, a folk hero and flamboyant trailblazer revered by his constituents for his perseverance of racial justice, civil rights and health care for all. The patriarch of Broward’s Black community for decades died Tuesday at age 84 after a long fight with pancreatic cancer.
The broad contours of Hastings’ remarkable political life are well-known. Before he went to Congress, he was Judge Hastings — the first black federal judge in Florida. He was accused of soliciting a bribe, impeached by Congress and removed from the bench by the Senate, but was still able to run for office. Far from being a political albatross, impeachment made him a martyr to those who viewed him as the wronged victim of the white power structure. It propelled him to Congress in 1992, where he won re-election 14 times in a row.
His political success is all about voter turnout. Such was the enormity of Hastings’ popularity that in that first race in 1992, more Black Democrats cast ballots in the second primary than in the first primary (Florida still had runoffs then). It was unheard of and a sign of the drawing power of Hastings’ charisma and his ability to inspire. In that highly combative race, Hastings defeated a fellow Democrat, Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach, who later joined him in Congress.
Hastings often wore his outrage on his sleeve and was easily outraged, often with good reason. In a column written for this newspaper, he assailed Republicans, including former Gov. Rick Scott, for their past efforts to “purge” non-citizens from the voter rolls.
“Never before have these voter suppression efforts been so blatant, widespread and systematic,” he wrote. “We cannot sit idly by.”
That column appeared in 2012 — nine years ago. At the time of Hastings’ death, in statehouses across the country, including Tallahassee, Republicans are creating new ways to discourage people from voting, especially poor, Black and brown people who were the foundation of Hastings’ loyal constituency. The GOP wants to make it harder for people to vote by mail and easier to challenge their signatures.
It naturally follows that one surefire way to honor Hastings’ life is for Floridians to never take the right to vote for granted and to fiercely oppose Republican schemes to control the ballot box. This is destructive to our faith in democracy and designed to rig elections. So don’t sit idly by. Do something. That’s what Hastings would have wanted.
As local leaders reflected on Hastings’ life Tuesday, County Commissioner Barbara Sharief offered poignant words. She recalled him laughing and enjoying life as he passed around slices of sweet potato pie and ice cream at a Westside Gazette candidates’ forum, before cancer overtook him. The event at Mount Hermon AME Church in Fort Lauderdale was more than two-and-a-half years ago, but Sharief described it as if it were yesterday.
“He had on a beautiful white suit, and he had a big smile on his face,” she recalled. “I don’t want to remember him as being sick. I want him to be vibrant in our minds.”
Vibrant doesn’t begin to describe him. After receiving his law degree at Florida A&M University in 1963, Hastings opened a law office in Fort Lauderdale, a rigidly segregated place that was openly hostile to Blacks. He became “a howling voice in a little cracker town” in the memorable phrase of former public defender Howard Finkelstein. He opposed segregation and racial injustice as legal counsel for the local NAACP, and made the road ahead a bit easier for many Black leaders who followed, such as Kathleen Wright, Chris Smith, Harold Pryor and Shevrin Jones.
In 1965, Hastings and three friends — W. George Allen, Jesse McCrary and Jim Hibbing — were humiliated and refused service at the Cat’s Meow, a restaurant popular with the courthouse crowd. The Fort Lauderdale News reported he filed suit and the owner dropped his whites-only restrictions. The next year, he became the first Black man to run for the state House in Broward. “Negro seeks post” read the headline on a tiny wire service story in Florida papers.
Hastings lost that race, and many others, but he persevered. He refused to quit, and in 1992, in a weirdly shaped district that stretched from North Miami-Dade to Fort Pierce and drawn by judges, he became one of three Blacks elected to Congress in Florida for the first time since Reconstruction.
But now he’s gone, and a special election will be held to elect his successor in Congress. All signs point to a crowded, intensely hard-fought election in the 20th Congressional District that spans many of Broward’s minority communities and stretches north through the Everglades to West Palm Beach.
Special elections are notorious for weak turnouts, but to honor Hastings’ life, voters should make this an exception. Get involved and vote, as Alcee would have wanted.
Tampa Bay Times on ‘stubbornly high’ COVID-19 cases in Florida:
Florida opened vaccinations to anyone 16 years old and up on Monday. Early indications suggest the system has done a good job of absorbing the influx of newly eligible vaccine seekers. That’s good — the more people who get vaccinated the faster the state can contain the virus.
And Florida has some work to do. The state is one of 18 where new case counts rose both of the last two weeks. Of eight southeastern states, only Florida and North Carolina have new case counts trending upward this week.
The state also lags many others in rolling out the vaccines and in keeping COVID cases and deaths in check in recent weeks. The virus — and its variants — threaten to drive the numbers back up in coming weeks, or at least keep them from falling to safer levels, according to projections based on the state’s current numbers.
So as nearly anyone who wants a vaccine is now eligible for one, here’s a glance at where Florida stands in the ongoing fight against COVID.
CASES AND DEATHS
— 171 cases a day on average over the last week per 100,000 residents(asterisk). Thirteenth highest among the states, and above the national average of 133. Highest: Michigan at 452
— 2.3 deaths a day on average over the last week per 100,000 residents(asterisk). Seventh highest among the states. Highest: West Virginia 3.4
COVID POSITIVITY RATES
— 9.4 percent.(asterisk) Ninth highest in the country. Highest: Idaho at 29 percent
— 31 percent of the population with at least one vaccine dose, 37th among the states. Best: New Hampshire 42 percent
— 17.3 percent fully vaccinated, 40th among the states and one of only 14 states below the national average. Best: Alaska at 25 percent
Florida also has a so-so record when compared to the nation’s two other most-populated states, California and Texas.
And many of the COVID models predict that case levels in Florida will remain stubbornly stagnant for much of April. The death rate will drop, thanks in part to more vaccinated residents, but total deaths will still approach 35,000 in coming weeks.
(asterisk)Based on a 7-day rolling average ending April 5. Sources: Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, CDC, Becker’s Hospital Review
The Dayton Beach News-Journal on boosting Florida’s unemployment payment:
Floridians have learned that genuinely good news from Tallahassee — during the current legislative session, no less — is a rare and precious thing. Usually the most we can hope for is entertainment in the form of over-the-top grandstanding from the likes of North Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz. And even that took a dark turn this week.
So when a key state Senate committee approved legislation that would use federal aid to nudge up Florida’s embarrassingly skimpy unemployment compensation by $100 a week, our first response was to start blowing up balloons and putting together a party playlist.
After all, Florida’s traditionally low-wage workers have suffered at nearly every turn in this year-long struggle gone viral. Many of them were drafted onto the front lines in Florida’s delis, delivery trucks, discount outlets and drug stores. These “essential workers” put themselves and their families at risk, often without any form of combat pay
And they considered themselves the lucky ones. More than 3 million Floridians were out of work for at least part of the pandemic, and — in addition to the frustration and futility of navigating CONNECT, the state’s deliberately broken unemployment compensation system — faced the uncertainty of unemployment and the sneers of those who said the temporary $600 federal payment, when added to the state’s pitiful $275 weekly benefit, was too ample a reward for idleness.
As if these workers would have chosen to be jobless. As if they didn’t understand that any extra aid was temporary.
We were happy to hear that the Senate was considering carving out a sliver of the COVID federal relief that’s about to descend on Florida for their benefit, and downright proud to see Volusia County’s newest state senator, Jason Brodeur, speaking out on their behalf. It’s heartening to see Republicans finally joining the likes of Palm Beach County Sens. Bobby Powell, Tina Polsky and Lori Berman, who have been pounding this drum for more than a year now.
But then we looked at everything else lawmakers were doing, including a breathtakingly bad-faith raid on a state fund meant to support the construction of affordable housing, and simmered down. This boost in benefits is the least Florida lawmakers should do for those who are suffering the most in this ugly, plague-ridden economy — and by “least,” we mean they should be doing a lot more.
And by “should do,” we mean “probably won’t do.” Multiple media outlets have already reported that House Speaker Chris Sprowls is opposed to a benefits increase, even one that would still leave Florida’s benefit level well below the national average. Speaking to the News Service of Florida, Sprowls offered an airy murmur that the state should instead “deal with getting people back into the workforce.”
As if Florida couldn’t do both. As if there were any concrete plans moving in the Legislature’s lower chamber to do either, or to repair that rickety, raggedy mess that is the state’s unemployment-compensation system. There’s one month left in the legislative session. When, exactly, was the House going to roll out its plans beyond a break in unemployment taxes for Florida businesses?
We’d like to see Senate President Wilton Simpson hold Sprowl’s feet to the fire on this one. Call him out repeatedly. Slide this small morsel of relief for struggling Florida families onto the plate during every House-Senate negotiation, however unrelated.
And Sens. Powell, Polsky and Berman, keep up the fight. That also goes for Reps. Kelly Skidmore, Matt Willhite, Emily Slosberg, David Silvers, Omari Hardy and Joe Casello. More importantly, Sen. Gayle Harrell, and Reps. John Snyder, Rick Roth and Mike Caruso -- go fight by Brodeur’s side. Prove to the residents of Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast that all of their elected representatives deserve the trust local voters placed in them.
It is, after all, the least you can do.