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Florida editorial roundup

January 30, 2019

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

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Jan. 26

Miami Herald on a measure preventing employers from discriminating against LGBTQ people:

We understand the frustration of some in Florida’s LGBTQ community over the incremental nature of the Florida Inclusive Workforce Act, an anti-discrimination measure that prevents employers from discriminating but doesn’t stop businesses or landlords from refusing service to gay and transgender people. It is, without doubt, a half-measure.

But the legislation introduced by Sen. Joe Gruters — chairman of the Republican Party of Florida — is an important step in the right direction. And it actually has a chance of passing Florida’s conservative legislature. The bill was co-introduced by Boynton Beach Sen. Lori Berman and Miami Sen. Jason Pizzo

Republicans have consistently worked to kill other legislation that would include sexual orientation and gender identity in anti-discrimination laws, so Gruters’ sponsorship is a milestone for the state and the party.

“For now, we’re very confident that having the chair of the Republican Party being the one who’s filed this bill is a very positive thing,” said Tony Lima, executive director of the non-profit LGBTQ organization SAVE. “It will send a message to other conservatives that this is something they need to get behind.”

Not everyone agrees. Joe Saunders, a former state representative, harshly criticized SAVE’s endorsement of Gruters’ bill, saying that supporting a bill without public accommodation protections abandons Florida’s transgender community. Equality Florida also criticized SAVE and blamed the narrow focus on “arguments that transgender people are bathroom predators or pose a risk to others.”

Yet more-comprehensive legislation — the Florida Competitive Workforce Act — has no chance of passing the state House of Representatives this year. The state’s LGBTQ community should ponder Gruters’ hypothetical question in an interview about his bill: “Do you want to pass a bill? Or do you want to make a point?”

Floridians should not have to worry about being discriminated against or refused service, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. It is infuriating and dehumanizing that state lawmakers are only willing to grant partial protections. But some progress is better than no progress at all.

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Online: https://www.miamiherald.com/

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Jan. 29

Tampa Bay Times on victims of Hurricane Michael:

Myriad factors determine the full impact of a hurricane and how quickly a community can dig out and rebuild. For the Panhandle towns where Hurricane Michael made landfall on Oct. 10 last year, 155 mph winds and widespread flooding delivered the first blow. But since then — and perhaps worse — a paltry financial outpouring has prolonged the misery and delayed the recovery. Why? As Emily L. Mahoney of the Times/Herald Tallahassee bureau reported, the Panhandle’s low profile meant the media attention came and went, so the disaster never drew the major corporate donations that other storms did. Hurricane Irma, which caused less property damage than Michael, prompted $100 million in corporate donations through the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. Hurricane Michael: $27 million. That’s a harsh reality — just like the conditions in which thousands of Floridians still find themselves living more than three months after the storm struck. Tarps on roofs. Families still in shelters. People taking refuge in their cars.

The country and the state may have largely moved on from Hurricane Michael, but the Panhandle can’t without a lot more support. Florida’s big companies should give places like Bay County another look to see how they can help. Elected leaders should keep recovery efforts on the front burner. And ordinary citizens should not forget that fellow Floridians still need our help.

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

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Jan. 24

Orlando Sentinel on Michael Ertel resigning as secretary of state after a newspaper obtained photos of him in blackface:

Just a few weeks ago, Michael Ertel was on top of the world.

The respected Seminole County supervisor of elections had just been chosen by Gov. Ron DeSantis as Florida’s secretary of state to oversee, among other things, Florida’s elections.

We wrote enthusiastically of Ertel’s choice, calling him “a savvy and efficient manager...”

That was true.

What’s also true, and what wasn’t publicly known, was an instance of appallingly bad judgment by Ertel in 2005.

On Thursday afternoon, the Tallahassee Democrat reported that it had obtained photos of Ertel at a Halloween party that year. The photos showed Ertel wearing blackface, lipstick, a New Orleans Saints bandanna as a headscarf, falsies and a T-shirt with “Katrina Victim” written on it. Ertel confirmed to the Democrat that he was the person in the picture.

Ertel resigned Thursday. As he should have.

There was no need to drag this out because there is no rationalization for what Ertel did.

He was young and stupid?

No, this was 14 years ago, which means Ertel was 35. He was a middle-aged man.

He was a private citizen at a private party?

Hardly. Earlier in 2005 he had been appointed Seminole’s supervisor of elections by then-Gov. Jeb Bush to fill the term of the elected supervisor, who resigned for health reasons.

Wearing blackface is OK during Halloween?

We just went through this with Megyn Kelly, the former host of “Megyn Kelly Today” on NBC. During a segment in October she wondered aloud what was so wrong with blackface if you were portraying a character.

There’s a lot wrong with blackface. It reinforces ugly and long-held stereotypes about black people. It’s dehumanizing. It’s demeaning. It’s despicable.

Ertel not only wore blackface, he depicted himself as a victim of Hurricane Katrina, just a couple of months after the 2005 storm slammed into New Orleans, killing nearly 2,000 people along the Gulf Coast.

Many of those people lived in poor, black wards. Many drowned after levees breached and water rose into their homes. Others died in nursing homes and hospitals. Thousands of refugees — families with children — were forced from their homes, living in unsanitary, repellent conditions.

It was one of the worst natural disasters in American history, but Ertel found it appropriate for a Halloween party.

We can’t help but wonder if the party-goers would have tolerated someone showing up as a dead 9/11 firefighter. Probably not.

We cannot pretend to know what was going through Ertel’s mind when he decided to dress as he did. We’ve recently seen the danger of media and the public pretending to know more than they do about people and their motivations.

But we can share in the disappointment many Seminole County residents must feel right now. Like them, we found Ertel likable, approachable, competent and earnest. We sensed that he believes voting is an act of patriotism that unites us as a nation. And that everyone who is eligible should be given the opportunity to perform that act.

We can believe that, and at the same time believe what our eyes see from 14 years ago, captured on film.

We had high hopes for Ertel, that he would make state elections decisions less political. That unlike his predecessor he would devote himself to making voting easier, not harder. That he would be a voice for the 1.4 million ex-felons whose right to vote was restored through the passage of Amendment 4.

Floridians should hope — demand — that DeSantis finds a replacement with similar impulses when it comes to voting.

More is sure to emerge about Michael Ertel’s fall.

But on Thursday, he told the Democrat, “There’s nothing I can say.”

“Sorry” would be a good start.

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

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