Tag Archives: Florida

Speaking Of Florida…

Speaking of Florida…

Ron DeSantis–the delusional and dangerous governor of Florida–is evidently doubling down on his insistence that government has no business protecting the public health via vaccine mandates.

According to The Week,

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) on Thursday stepped up his fight against the White House over COVID-19 restrictions, calling for a special legislative session so the state’s Republican-dominated Legislature can block President Biden’s vaccine mandates. “We have an opportunity here to take additional action, and I think we have to do it,” said DeSantis, who also has vowed to challenge Biden’s mandates in court. “I think we have got to stand up for people’s jobs and their livelihoods.” Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls said his office had not received details on the plan for a special session. Biden in September said his administration would impose vaccine mandates on federal workers and businesses with more than 100 employees, prompting criticism from Republicans who said getting vaccinated should be a personal choice.

I don’t have any special insight into whether DeSantis is really as stupid as he sounds, or whether he has decided that his political future rests with the delusional Trumpian base of the GOP, but this latest bit of theater is driving rational observers over the edge.

The hypocrisy is bad enough. This sudden libertarianism is jarring, coming as it does from Republicans who have waged culture war on behalf of government’s right to dictate everything from citizens’ right to smoke weed to who they can marry and and how they must reproduce.

What is especially infuriating, however, is the insistence that protecting others from serious illness and possible death should be a matter of “personal choice.”

As most readers of this blog are aware, I spent six years as the Executive Director of Indiana’s ACLU. I came to that position as a libertarian Republican (a category that no longer exists in the GOP, despite these sudden dishonest exhortations about “personal choice.”) I was–and am–a believer in what is called the libertarian premise, the  Enlightenment construct that says citizens are entitled to pursue their own telos, their own life goals–in today’s jargon, entitled to “do their own thing” and make their own “personal choices”–so long as they do not thereby harm the person or property of a non-consenting other, and so long as they are willing to accord an equal liberty to others.

The legitimacy of government action rests on those caveats.

There can certainly be arguments about what constitutes sufficient harm to justify government rules and regulations. Those arguments have been especially relevant to so-called “victimless crimes.” We distinguish, for example, between the guy who gets drunk in the privacy of his own home and the guy who gets drunk and takes to the road in his car. People who smoke in their own homes and cars are free to do so, but we have regulated smoking in public places ever since medical science discovered that passive smoke  endangers others. We argue whether the gambler who sustains losses poses a threat to others sufficient to legitimize laws against gambling, and whether the driver who doesn’t “buckle up” endangers anyone but himself.

The argument that vaccination is a “personal choice” doesn’t fall into that category.

Previous epidemics have not spawned similar, widespread debates about government’s right–actually, government’s duty–to protect public health. American courts, including the Supreme Court, have upheld both vaccination and quarantine mandates, because they are most definitely not matters of personal choice. A decision to forego vaccination for a non-medical reason is a declaration of disregard for ones fellow-citizens. Period.

If today’s insane Republicans want to risk their own lives in order to make a political statement, I’m fine with that. When they want to risk the lives of other people, not so much.

In Florida, a large percentage of the population is composed of elderly folks who are particularly vulnerable to the pandemic, That makes DeSantis’ opposition to vaccination especially heinous. He isn’t protecting “personal choice;” he’s signaling his willingness to add to the 59,000+  deaths the state has already suffered from COVID.

He has made a “personal choice” to elevate politics over morality.He’s despicable.

 

 

 

This S**t’s Getting Real

Okay–as multiple sources have now reported, Donald Trump is refusing to commit to the peaceful transfer of power if he should lose.

For months now, Democrats have warned and worried about the prospect of Trump simply  rejecting election results and proclaiming himself the winner– regardless of the vote tally. There have been credible reports of mail slowdowns, enlistment of “volunteers” prepared to intimidate voters at the polls, and similar suppression tactics.

Now, a carefully-researched article from the  Atlantic has raised the stakes.

Barton Gellman writes that the Trump team is creating a plan to “work around” those pesky actual  vote results in battleground states. If Biden wins a Red swing state,  its GOP-run state legislature would announce that the vote was tainted and appoint Republican electors instead of the Democratic electors who won. (They would insist they were protecting the will of the people from those who were trying to rig an election.)

There’s a lot more detail, but such shenanigans would undoubtedly spawn litigation that would end up at the Supreme Court. Which explains the GOP’s frantic effort to confirm a replacement for Ruth Bader Ginsberg right away.

 The New Yorker is one of several outlets reporting on Trump’s admission of that motive:

One thing you cannot accuse Donald Trump of is trying to disguise his nefarious intentions. For months now, legal experts and Democratic campaign officials have warned that he may reject the results of this year’s election and pronounce himself the victor regardless of the vote tally. On Tuesday, Trump virtually confirmed that this is his plan. He also indicated that rushing through the appointment of another conservative to the Supreme Court is a key element of his strategy to stay in the White House.

The only thing that can short-circuit Trump’s subversion of American democracy is an absolutely massive turnout for Democrats on Election Day. That’s why my husband and I will mask up and vote early. That’s also why my youngest son just sent a contribution to “We Got The Vote” This is the organization raising money to pay off the fines of former felons in Florida so that they can vote in this election.

As most of you reading this probably know, in a Florida referendum, voters approved a change of law to allow former felons to vote. Republicans who control the Florida legislature and Florida’s despicable  Governor refused to implement the mandated change, passing a measure that prevents ex-felons from voting until they pay off whatever fines they still owe .(Can we spell “poll tax”?) This is particularly egregious because not only are many ex-offenders unable to raise that money, the State of Florida doesn’t have the institutional capacity to tell them what they owe.

The organization “We Got the Vote” is raising money to pay off fines so ex-felons can vote. (As a nice “reward” for sending them money, they are a tax-exempt nonprofit, so donations are fully tax deductible.unlike political donations.)

Michael Bloomberg’s political operation recently raised more than $16 million from supporters and foundations to pay the court fines and fees for more than 30,000 Black and Latino voters in Florida with felonies, allowing them to vote in the upcoming election–and the Republican AG immediately launched an “investigation,” citing “potential election law violations.”

That donation didn’t constitute a violation of anything other than GOP electoral prospects, but as my son pointed out, that $16 million was only enough to cover some 32,000 voters– out of an estimated 700,000. Since Florida votes are going to be critically important this year–Trump can’t win without Florida–this seems like a good investment for those of us trying to increase turnout.

And turnout is definitely the name of the game this year. COVID or no COVID, Americans need to vote early. In states that count absentee ballots before Election Day–a list of states that doesn’t include Indiana–that means getting those ballots in ASAP. In places like Indiana that don’t start counting mailed-in ballots until Election Day, we need to put on our masks and find an early-voting site.

The only thing that will defeat the intended theft of this election is massive blue turnout.

Let Me Count The Ways…

There are all sorts of tactics that have been employed over the years to suppress the votes of “the other guys.” Recently, those efforts have mostly come from the GOP, but historically, both parties have engaged in them–just as both parties do (and continue to) gerrymander when they control a state legislative chamber.

I’ve recently noted that the efforts to cast doubt on voting by mail are partly motivated by the fact that vote-by-mail defeats many of the time-honored ways to suppress minority votes–and provides a paper trail.

One of the least commented methods of suppressing minority votes–and one of the most effective–is felon disenfranchisement. It is widespread–a number of states forbid ex-offenders from casting ballots–and superficially, at least, it’s race-neutral. For citizens unaware of the over-incarceration of African-Americans during America’s drug war (laid out in indisputable terms by Michelle Alexander in The New Jim Crow), felon disenfranchisement is simply a lingering, perhaps overly-harsh “law and order” punishment of those who have broken the law.

Two recent court decisions–one honorable, one definitely not–make the implicit, explicit.

In North Carolina, a court struck down an effort to keep ex-offenders from casting ballots, holding that the state could not disenfranchise citizens who owe fines, fees, and other debts from a felony conviction. As the linked article about the ruling noted,

Many felon disenfranchisement rules, including North Carolina’s, are rooted in overt white supremacy. After Reconstruction, racist Democrats in the state sought to revoke Black citizens’ suffrage. They accomplished this task, in part, through vague criminal laws that stripped convicted felons of their civil rights—then enforced these laws disproportionately against Black people. North Carolina’s current statute is rooted in an 1877 law spearheaded by a representative who later presided over the lynching of three Black men. At the time, Democrats argued that felon disenfranchisement was necessary to stop “the honest vote of a white man” from being “off-set by the vote of some negro.” Its purpose, alongside other Jim Crow measures like the literacy test, was to “secure white supremacy.”

The law continues to work as intended, as documented in an expert report by University of North Carolina professor Frank R. Baumgartner. Today, Black North Carolinians represent 22 percent of adults and 42 percent of the disenfranchised. Black residents are denied the right to vote at three times the rate of white residents in 44 counties. The state’s disenfranchisement regime targets two groups of people: those on probation or parole, and those who’ve completed their full sentence but still owe court debt. Notably, judges may extend an individual’s probation or send them back to prison because they haven’t paid off these fines and fees.

Meanwhile, in Florida, immediately after a majority of citizens voted to overturn that state’s felony disenfranchisement law, Republican legislators passed a measure that limited that disenfranchisement to those who had managed to pay off all court costs. A federal judge ruled that the restriction was an unconstitutional poll tax. But last Friday, an appeals court narrowly overturned that decision.

The court’s 6-4 ruling dealt a significant blow to civil rights groups that have fought to expand the voter rolls with hundreds of thousands of people who had completed prison time and parole for felony convictions. It also undermined what had seemed like a major referendum victory in 2018 and served as another reminder of the decisive role that a slew of legal cases could play before the presidential election.

There are lessons here, for those of us willing to learn them.

First, racial animus dies hard, and it lurks in places we seldom think to look. Second, the competence and integrity of the men and women who occupy the nation’s bench–who act as custodians of the Constitution and defenders of the Rule of Law–is critically important.

And third, the future of both that bench and this nation depends upon massive turnout for “blue no matter who” on (or preferably before) November 3d.

 

Florida, Felons And The Franchise

According to The Guardian, voter disenfranchisement is an American tradition.

It’s hard to dispute that charge when we find ourselves in the middle of vicious–and very public– attempts to suppress the upcoming vote: an assault on both vote-by-mail and the Post Office that would deliver absentee ballots, enthusiastic and none-too-careful “purges” of state voter rolls, and of course the continued insistence that “Voter ID” documentation is needed to prevent (virtually non-existent) in-person voter fraud.

But it’s hard to beat the obscene shenanigans of the Florida GOP, which has used every mechanism in its power to defeat the expressed will of citizens who voted to return the franchise to formerly incarcerated citizens. The Guardian provided background:

Civil death is a form of punishment that extinguishes someone’s civil rights. It’s a concept that has been reshaped and reinterpreted over many generations, persisting in the form of felony disenfranchisement, through which a citizen loses their right to vote due to a felony conviction.

There are an estimated 6 million Americans who cannot vote in the country’s elections because of some form of civil death. Depending on the state they live in, they might even lose their right to vote permanently, or for years after they are released from prison. While the US has come to see this form of civil death as status quo, it is actually rare for a democratic country to take away a citizen’s voting rights after they leave prison, let alone forever. Countries like Germany and Denmark allow prisoners to vote while incarcerated, while others restore their rights immediately after release.

The US’s history of restricting the number of people who can vote in elections goes back to the colonies – and it’s a history that has disproportionately affected black people.

Why am I not surprised that this policy–like American social welfare policies–is rooted in racism?

The Guardian article proceeds to lay out the history of felon disenfranchisement, going all the way back to ancient Athens, Rome and medieval Europe and then through history, up to and including the Supreme Court’s refusal to find that either the Civil Rights Act or the 14th Amendment to the Constitution forbid the practice. The history also laid out the way in which the drug war–which Michelle Alexander showed decisively was a new form of Jim Crow–was cited to justify the disenfranchisement of formerly incarcerated individuals  who “just coincidentally” were overwhelmingly African-American.

In 2018, Florida voters passed “Amendment 4”, a measure that would restore the franchise to up to 1.4 million ex-felons. That ballot initiative, the Guardian noted, was one of the most significant voting rights victories for this population in decades.

So what happened?

Republican legislators passed a new law requiring ex-felons to pay court fines and fees in order to regain the right to vote. Critics of the law have called this payment requirement a modern-day poll tax. In July of 2020 the supreme court ruled in favor of the legislature, making it difficult for hundreds of thousands of Floridians to vote in the upcoming election.

As NPR reported last month,

The U.S. Supreme Court has left in place a lower court order that likely will prevent hundreds of thousands of felons in Florida from voting in the November election. It is the fourth time that the court has refused to intervene to protect voting rights this year.

In the wake of the George Floyd murder, white Americans have begun (belatedly) to recognize how many of our policies are motivated by racial animus–and how many of those policies end up hurting everyone, not just their intended victims.

When it comes to voting rights, the GOP’s sustained effort to depress the votes of urban dwellers, people of color and poor people is both an admission and an attack: an admission that the party cannot win “fair and square,” and an attack on the majority rule that is the essence of a democratic system.

 

Privatization, Florida And Betsy DeVos

Monday was a big day for collusion watchers, and I am becoming more optimistic that this unhinged and unfit child-President won’t serve out his term. That said, the throwbacks, theocrats and corrupt wheeler-dealers who populate the Trump Administration are doing incalculable harm every day.

I know there’s a robust competition for Worst Cabinet Member Ever, but even though Scott Pruitt is a strong contender, I really have to cast my vote for Betsy DeVos. (Apparently, mine isn’t the only such vote; I read somewhere that more people know who she is than any current or previous cabinet secretary, and that her disapproval numbers are off the charts.)

Every day, it seems there’s a new assault on sanity coming from DeVos. I’m particularly enraged (and that’s not too strong a word) by her actions favoring for-profit rip-off colleges, but even her willingness to wink at the private-sector “entrepreneurs” making millions by cheating both government and aspiring students pales in comparison to her pro-voucher fixation.

Recently, the Orlando-Sentinal began an investigative series on Florida’s experience with school privatization; anyone who knows anything about DeVos knows that replacing public schools with private ones, preferably Christian, is her most cherished goal.

As Daily Kos described the report,

Writers Leslie Postal, Beth Kassab, and Annie Martin have put together the first part of what promises to be an infuriating look into the swamp of privatization in Florida’s education system. According to the investigation, private schools in Florida have received $1 billion dollars in scholarship money, while not having to promise much of anything—including hiring teachers with college degrees. And that’s just the tip of the rapidly-melting iceberg.

A few of the hair-raising findings:

The limited oversight of Florida’s scholarship programs allowed a principal under investigation for molesting a student at his Brevard County school to open another school under a new name and still receive the money, an Orlando Sentinel investigation found.

Another Central Florida school received millions of dollars in scholarships, sometimes called school vouchers, for nearly a decade even though it repeatedly violated program rules, including hiring staff with criminal convictions.

One Orlando school, which received $500,000 from the public programs last year, has a 24-year-old principal still studying at a community college.

Upset parents sometimes complain to the state, assuming it has some say over academic quality at these private schools. It does not. “They can conduct their schools in the manner they believe to be appropriate,” reads a typical response from the Florida Department of Education to a parent.

It seems that the Florida program doesn’t require private schools accepting vouchers to comply with those silly standards that public schools are expected to meet, including building codes. They need not show evidence that staff members have been trained to do the tasks the schools claim they can perform. They don’t even have to do background checks– although state law does require schools to do criminal background checks, the law doesn’t require the state to check to confirm that they were actually done.

In recent years, while investigating other problems, the education department caught at least eight schools with staff members who had criminal records. One Osceola school was forced to fire its P.E. teacher and coach when the state discovered his record. But the man now works about a mile away, at another private school that takes scholarship students.

Despite these problems, Florida is one of the states that DeVos is bragging about as she tries to destroy education as we know it. A significant percentage of Florida’s voucher schools must be religious, since DeVos has demonstrated an inability to distinguish between education and fundamentalist Christian indoctrination.

Actually, she has demonstrated an inability to do the job. Repeatedly.