Talk about a throwback. The Florida Legislature’s hellish time travels

Florida Archives

Your legislators have left Tallahassee. But not before they voted Florida back to 1877.

Old times not forgotten! Good times! Only God’s chosen were allowed to exercise the franchise, you could dump any damn thing into the rivers and the lakes, dredge and drain and build any damn thing you wanted on your property, and you could carry your shooting iron to the school house.

If there was a school house, which there probably wasn’t, because they didn’t believe in public education back in them there days.

Well, Florida’s lawmakers still don’t hold with public education, what with the teachers being union-loving communists always agitating to be paid a living wage and whatnot.

But they taught those lefty indoctrinators a sharp lesson this session: taxpayers are going to be sending a lot more of their cash money to charter schools and private schools where children learn that dinosaurs rode on the ark with Noah, Charlton Heston talked to God in a combustible shrub, and they ain’t kin to no monkey.

Just like it says in the Good Book.

Not only will your precious young ‘uns escape from the secular humanism of public schools, they won’t have to mix with riff raff from the wrong part of town, and they won’t have to take any of those assessment tests, either.

Lesson One: Accountability is for public schools; money is for private schools.

And guns–guns are for all God’s children, even commie teachers. They can now pack heat in the classroom. America!.

OK, there was that little incident in Pasco County, when a trained law enforcement officer’s gun went off in a middle school cafeteria, but it’s always good for kids to learn how to take cover. Plus, nobody died.

The Florida legislature should be proud of reminding us of our pioneer heritage, evoking the days when your word was your bond and your piece was your passport.

Which brings us to our rights and privileges as Americans. Real Americans, if you catch my drift. How better to honor Florida’s glorious Southern roots than resurrecting the poll tax?

Let me do like the whole country and go back a bit. After the War of Northern Aggression, the Yankee government in Washington tried to impose equality on Dixie, insisting that former slaves and their progeny should be able to vote just like white folks.

Well, it just didn’t sit right with some of us’ns, given our Way of Life and all. So once the federal invaders withdrew their troops, we commenced to making some perfectly reasonable laws about who should enjoy full citizenship.

The 15th Amendment to the US Constitution said ex-slaves and their children could vote. Florida said hell, no.

In 1877, if you stole a chicken or some oranges, that was it; you lost the franchise.

And just in case some black men didn’t get the message, before an election, the cops would round up all the black men they could find and put them on trial for petty larceny.

One little conviction, and you are now a nefarious criminal. The only way to get back your rights was to beg the governor, and the majority of Florida’s governors just weren’t into it.

When that fine Christian gentleman Rick Scott held the state’s highest office, he and the clemency board would ask former jailbirds important and searching questions like: “How often do you go to church?” “How many children do you have and to how many mothers?” and maybe “Is it true that you are not, in fact, white?”

Most petitioners were denied.

But certain busybodies just couldn’t leave it alone. They got up a petition on the ballot last November and Floridians accidentally said yes to Amendment 4, allowing criminals to vote like decent people.

Not the murderers and the rapists, of course, but you write a bad check or two, deal a little dope out of your car, or steal a chicken, and you’re on that slippery slope, out of control. Next thing we know, you’re shooting up a kindergarten (see above).

Back to the poll tax: it’s a way to stop reprobates and incorrigibles from abusing democracy by actually participating in it.

And your Florida Legislature is on the case. They’ve looked to our glorious past to create a new law demanding that reprobates pay every single penny the court says they owe–unless they can get a lawyer and convince a judge to convert the money to community service hours or waive the fees.

Nobody seems to know how this would work or if courts would be overwhelmed or what they should do with the inconvenient Florida rule that judges can only waive fees and fines within 60 days of a sentence, but hey, it’s Florida. Give us another 150 years and we’ll study on it.

And while we’re going back to the poll tax, why not go the whole hog with a “literacy test”? In olden times, certain people used to have to answer perfectly reasonable questions–“What are the names of the federal district judges of Georgia?” and “How many windows does the White House have?”–before they could vote.

The governor called this legislative session “historic.”

So true. Perhaps he was thinking of that beautiful line in our beloved state song, written by Stephen Foster in 1851. Florida’s “still longing for the old plantation and for the old folks at home.”

Some of us are, anyway.

Diane Roberts
Diane Roberts is an 8th-generation Floridian, born and bred in Tallahassee, which probably explains her unhealthy fascination with Florida politics. Educated at Florida State University and Oxford University in England, she has been writing for newspapers since 1983, when she began producing columns on the legislature for the Florida Flambeau. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Times of London, the Guardian, the Washington Post, the Oxford American, and Flamingo. She has been a member of the Editorial Board of the St. Petersburg Times–back when that was the Tampa Bay Times’s name–and a long-time columnist for the paper in both its iterations. She was a commentator on NPR for 22 years and continues to contribute radio essays and opinion pieces to the BBC. Roberts is also the author of four books, most recently Dream State, an historical memoir of her Florida family, and Tribal: College Football and the Secret Heart of America. She lives in Tallahassee, except for the times she runs off to Great Britain, desperate for a different government to satirize.


  1. Cannot believe this bigot is employed! How obviously biased can she be? Maybe I shouldn’t ask that question… Editor: you really should do a better job. This should have been tossed before it made it to print!

  2. Scott is a disaster for Florida. He is in lock step with trump, meaning our fragile ecology means nothing to him when compared to the almighty dollar to be made in drilling (and killing our endangered wildlife) for oil. Wake up, Republican legislators. It’s already too close to being too late to save what’s left. The money just isn’t that important in the whole scope of life in Florida.

  3. Why I love living in Florida…our enlightened legislators working steadily to unseat Mississippi as most backwards state in the union…..SO proud of all social, ecological, financial regression this session. (In case I missed some subjects…apologies)

  4. Calling it like she sees it. Getting under some readers’ skin as usual. Mission accomplished. Yet another generation of good old boys lining their own pockets and currying favor with the older ones with the more expensive box seats and club categories. An accurate satire of the sad state of affairs.


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