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Florida editorial roundup

January 2, 2019

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

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Jan. 2

Orlando Sentinel on Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis’ choice for Florida secretary of state:

We have our reservations about Ron DeSantis’s choice of Richard Corcoran as state education commissioner. Corcoran, the former House speaker, is no friend to public schools.

But then the incoming governor chose Michael Ertel to run the Florida Department of State, providing a glimmer of hope that the new administration won’t be packed with partisan ideologues.

The State Department has numerous functions, like promoting the arts and maintaining corporate business records. But none of those is as high-profile and potentially controversial as overseeing elections.

And Ertel knows elections, proving himself to be a savvy and efficient manager while running them in Seminole County for the past 13 years.

DeSantis chose wisely. Elections offices have had no shortage of incompetence and partisanship over the years.

Ertel’s record shows no evidence of the former and little of the latter. He’s been willing to buck his own party when he thought its leaders or policies were off base.

Just as important, Ertel has a history of trying to make voting easier, not harder. Yes, friends, he thinks voting is important and wants people to participate.

Nice change from the current secretary of state, Ken Detzner, a longtime beer wholesalers lobbyist who was appointed to the job in 2012 by Gov. Rick Scott.

Detzner wasted no time alienating some of the state’s 67 county supervisors of elections after a botched attempt to purge non-citizens from the voter rolls. The purge initially ensnared many thousands of citizens, threatening their right to vote.

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Ertel told the Orlando Sentinel his No. 1 priority is to re-establish trust in the elections process.

He outlined ideas that suggest a philosophy guided by fairness and access.

For example, Ertel thinks there’s a way to partially get around the write-in candidate loophole. In Florida, everyone — regardless of party — gets to vote in a primary if there’s no opposition in the general election. Too often, a bogus write-in candidate — basically a ghost candidate — is recruited for the general election to thwart that rule. Ertel thinks that if the write-in candidate belongs to the same party as the candidates in the primary, that should open the primary to all voters. This should have been resolved by the recent Constitution Review Commission, but we like how Ertel is thinking.

He also wants to make sure that ballots are designed so races don’t get buried — and possibly overlooked — at the bottom of lengthy voting instructions (which is what happened in Broward County last fall). Also smart.

And Ertel doesn’t think there’s any reason why ex-felons who have completed all of the conditions of their sentences shouldn’t be free to register to vote come Jan. 8, when Amendment 4 takes effect. Ertel says the current registration form asking ex-felons if their rights have been restored is adequate for now, though he thinks the form should be updated to be clearer. More good thinking.

How refreshing to hear someone talk about removing voting obstacles rather than creating them.

DeSantis should be proud of this choice. Now he has to pick someone to replace Ertel in Seminole.

The soon-to-be governor needs to consider candidates who share Ertel’s convictions and steer clear of party hacks looking to land a nice job with a good paycheck. And Seminole is silly with party hacks.

Ertel has a competent staff with experience running elections. DeSantis should look there first.

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

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Dec. 30

South Florida Sun Sentinel on the Broward County schools superintendent’s job status flowing the February shooting that killed 17 people at Stoneman Douglas High:

Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie is a good, thoughtful and well-meaning man who cares about kids, closing the achievement gap and ensuring schools are safe for everyone.

But in the wake of the Feb. 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Runcie is not the take-charge, no-excuses leader our school district needs to bust down bureaucratic barriers, hold people accountable and build public trust that our schools are safe.

Rather, the district’s lawyers appear to be calling the shots. And their strategy reminds us of an old Herblock cartoon where one government bureaucrat says to the other: “Well, we certainly botched this job. What’ll we stamp it — secret or top secret?”

The legal department’s batten-the-hatches ethos makes Runcie’s talk of transparency, transparency, transparency echo like so many hollow words.

Runcie continues to draw support from the business community, the teacher’s union and Broward’s black elected officials. In his seven years as superintendent, he’s built a reservoir of support for having improved school grades, addressed inefficiencies and secured new money for construction projects and pay raises.

Plus, he’s a nice guy who’s passionate about educating students. He’s famous for creating a program meant to curb the schools-to-prison pipeline by giving kids who commit misdemeanors a second chance. But reporting by the South Florida Sun Sentinel offers reason to believe his philosophy created a culture of leniency in Broward schools, giving kids endless second chances, discouraging teachers from reporting troublemakers and keeping law enforcement agencies from hearing about violent kids.

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In this, his defining moment, few people are praising Runcie’s post-Parkland leadership. Rather, Parkland parents call him a liar. Bumper stickers call for his ouster. A state commission decries his lack of urgency. State lawmakers privately question his effectiveness. And the incoming governor would like to see him gone.

The pressure is taking its toll. Runcie looks beaten down. It’s hard to watch. But then you remember that on his watch, multi-system failures resulted in a deeply disturbed kid shooting 34 people, 17 fatally.

The job of the school board is not to protect the superintendent or its over-zealous legal department. It’s to protect the kids. And right now, Broward School Board members are failing their kids.

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Before the alleged shooter, Nikolas Cruz, was kicked out of Stoneman Douglas in February 2017, his actions had prompted a “threat assessment.” We don’t know why, exactly. But records obtained by the Sun Sentinel — not from the school district, mind you — reveal Cruz grew violent at age 3...

How in heaven’s name did the threat assessment fail to assess the threat this kid posed?

Put aside school grades, pep rallies and more money for salaries and construction contracts. None of that matters if students and staff don’t make it home at the end of the day.

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In the business world, everybody knows how this would play out. Sometimes you just need a fresh face, someone who can push past the blame, get beyond the defensiveness and with a checklist and hard deadlines, establish rules for the new normal.

A fresh slate also helps everyone heal a little bit better.

Separations are hard, especially from a personable person. But Broward school board members should begin talking to Superintendent Robert Runcie about a separation.

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

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Jan. 1

The Florida Times-Union on local and state health goals for 2019:

Next year at this time, we should look back and see major progress in the health of Jacksonville’s citizens.

We should be making strides in reducing infant mortality.

The number of overdose deaths should have significantly declined.

Efforts to encourage Jacksonville citizens to eat right, exercise and reduce the rate of diabetes should be bearing fruit.

The reality is Jacksonville is two cities: one is prosperous and healthy — the other is plagued by poverty and poor health outcomes.

And you can chart the health of Jacksonville by following the money.

For example, high rates of asthma, obesity, cancer, heart disease and diabetes are common in Jacksonville’s high-poverty neighborhoods.

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Jacksonville isn’t helped by the fact that our mule-headed state leaders continue to refuse federal funding to expand Medicaid, even as other Republican-dominated states find ways to take the money and help their most vulnerable citizens.

Just consider these inexcusable statistics:

- More than 2.6 million Floridians lacked health insurance in 2017, reported the Census Bureau.

- During that time period, Florida had the fifth-highest rate of uninsured residents — 13 percent of the adult population — in the nation.

“Florida is going in the wrong direction,” said Joan Alker, executive director of the national Center for Children and Families.

We must get on the right path during 2019.

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Because of the state’s refusal to expand Medicaid, too many local residents must turn to charity care...

If it’s not going to expand Medicaid, the state must do more to help Jacksonville maintain an adequate safety net for uninsured residents.

- There must be tangible success in targeting and reducing infant mortality.

There are already encouraging signs on this front — several local health systems have agreed to fund the first study of every infant mortality case in a single year; previously, only a fraction of the deaths involving local children who died before the first birthday were studied each year.

Jacksonville has long had one of the highest rates of infant mortality in the state; when any child in this city dies before reaching age 1, we need to know why.

A city’s infant mortality rate is a major indicator of that community’s health, and there are way too many neighborhoods in Jacksonville where infants are ominously at risk of not surviving their first months of life.

That must change — and dramatically so — during 2019.

Online: https://www.jacksonville.com/

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