Tag Archives: Florida

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.

Reality Doesn’t Care Whether You Believe It (Part I)

La La Land isn’t just the title of a movie. Increasingly, it’s where our government officials live.

The Trump administration is debating whether to launch a governmentwide effort to question the science of climate change, an effort that critics say is an attempt to undermine the long-established consensus human activity is fueling the Earth’s rising temperatures.

This effort is being pushed by Scott Pruitt, the truly dangerous Secretary of the EPA, but other administration troglodytes are also involved.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who once described the science behind human-caused climate change as a “contrived phony mess,” also is involved in the effort, two officials said.

At a White House briefing this week, Perry said, “The people who say the science is settled, it’s done — if you don’t believe that you’re a skeptic, a Luddite. I don’t buy that. I don’t think there is — I mean, this is America. Have a conversation. Let’s come out of the shadows of hiding behind your political statements and let’s talk about it. What’s wrong with that? And I’m full well — I can be convinced, but let’s talk about it.”…

Other agencies could include the Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy and NASA, according to the official, all of which conduct climate research in some capacity.

And then there’s Florida. As CNN reports,

A new Florida law would let anyone in the state challenge, and possibly change, what kids are learning in school.

Any Florida resident can raise concerns about teaching material they find unfit for public school classrooms, according to legislation that went into effect Saturday. The bill was introduced in February by Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Naples, and was signed into law last week after passing with bipartisan support…

Supporters of the law have disputed material presenting global warming and evolution as “reality.” Others found certain reading material to be “pornographic.” And for some, US and world history textbooks seem biased and anti-American.

Impetus for the measure came from a conservative group called “The Florida Citizens’ Alliance.”  That organization  gathered testimony from “at least 25 people” (!) in favor of the legislation, and their reasoning (I use the term loosely) was predictable.

One woman took issue with evolution being taught as a “fact,” arguing that the “vast majority of Americans believe that the world and the beings living on it were created by God as revealed in the Bible.” Another person complained that history classes were making students “subservient” by teaching them about the president’s ability to issue executive orders.

Shades of Trump’s go-to response when his “facts” are challenged:  “a lot of people agree with me.” A lot of people still believe the earth is flat and that aliens landed and are buried in Roswell, New Mexico.

What’s that great Neil DeGrasse Tyson quote? Reality doesn’t care whether you believe it or not…

Rick Scott: All-Republican

I know that in sports, some players are “All Americans.” In Florida, Governor Rick Scott might be considered “All Republican.” He follows the script of today’s GOP (a party that bears little resemblance to the GOP I once knew and supported), but without the finesse that allows other Republican lawmakers to at least pretend they care about their constituents, and that their policies, however damaging, are based on good intentions.

Scott has been everything you’d expect from a sleaze who–before turning to electoral politics–admitt to 14 counts of Medicare fraud and paid the federal government more than $600 million dollars in fines.

A couple of days ago, the Tampa Bay Times issued a blistering critique of Scott, calling him the worst governor in Florida’s history. Titled “If He Only Had a Heart,” it’s well worth reading in its entirety, but I’ll just share the summary:

In Scott’s Florida, it is harder for citizens to vote and for the jobless to collect unemployment. It is easier for renters to be evicted and for borrowers to be charged high interest rates on short-term loans. It is harder for patients to win claims against doctors who hurt them and for consumers to get fair treatment from car dealers who deceive them. It is easier for businesses to avoid paying taxes, building roads and repairing environmental damage.

Scott may lack their talent to project a “kinder, gentler” facade, but there is an entire cohort of Republican governors operating from the same playbook.

Most, like Indiana’s governor, are much smoother, but the agenda is same.

Two Governors and an Election

Okay–no big post today. Today is fingernail-biting/pundit-watching/whatever-happens-it’s- finally-over day. There will be time to chew over the results later.

A friend sent me an email with a small medallion attached; it said “Stay calm and trust Nate Silver.” Good advice–if not for the nagging concerns raised by the widespread efforts at voter suppression and intimidation. I can’t help contrasting two governors: Andrew Cuomo in New York, and Rick Scott in Florida. In the wake of storm Sandy, Cuomo has issued an executive order allowing New Yorkers to vote at any polling place. They just need to submit an affidavit that they are registered, and that the storm damaged their usual voting site. In contrast, Florida Governor Rick Scott has “purged” voter rolls of thousands of properly registered citizens, mostly minorities, and closed down early voting sites.

I hope the response to Scott and the others, like Ohio Secretary of State Husted, is a greater determination to exercise the franchise they are trying so hard to deny to the “wrong kind” of voters.

We’ll know later tonight.