Hellooooo: FL needs visionary leadership, not boneheadedness

Around Mother's Day, Gov. Ron DeSantis stopped by the Rusted Arrow shop in Pensacola to pick up some gifts. Missing in the photo: no protective face masks. Credit: Ron DeSantis Twitter feed.

The writer (and biochemist) Isaac Asimov famously decried the “false notion,” all too common in America, “that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”

This is practically the national creed, epitomized by the person who won’t wear a face mask because it infringes on his “freedoms;” or the anti-vaccination movement (on the left and the right), convinced that the government wants to pollute your precious bodily fluids.

Then there’s the Trump presidency, that bankrupt brain trust which canned a top immunologist because he refused to promote an unproven “cure” and wants to open up the country, even as the rate of COVID-19 infections grows nationwide.

Here in Florida, we’re also suffering from a particularly aggressive strain of boneheadedness. Gov. Ron DeSantis, a walking exemplar of shaky thinking skills, tweeted a grinning photo of himself on Thursday, buying Mother’s Day presents in a cute little Pensacola shop, maskless and clueless.

Deadly as it is, the pandemic has exposed our rampant inequality, our racial divide, and our environmental inadequacies for all to see, offering us the chance to build a better Florida — a Florida that works for all its citizens, not just the rich: a cleaner, smarter, fairer state.

If only we had generous, visionary leadership.

Think what a great opportunity the current crisis presents for the governor to call a special legislative session to raise taxes on our megabucks corporations.

He handed out $543 million in tax cuts for Big Bidness in March this year, refusing to listen to those who felt Florida could use that money to support our struggling hospitals, which will need to get the new drugs (and eventually the vaccine) to treat COVID-19.

The 2020 state budget (passed, you will recall, as legislators galloped out of town, trying to avoid infection) contains a little bit of help addressing Florida’s dirty water and a nod to climate change.

But virus or no virus, the seas are still rising. We might spend some real money on dealing with that fact instead of dancing around the edges.

Here’s an idea: how about the state nixing those utterly unnecessary and environmentally disastrous toll roads nobody wants or needs?

OK, the Florida Chamber of Commerce wants them, plus the Florida Transportation Builders’ Association, and some Trump-buddy landowners who would make out like the bandits they are, but the people of Levy, Jefferson, and other rural counties prefer the woods and the springs to fast-food joints and traffic.

The roads are likely to cost around $10 billion. Think how far that kind of money would go to buy conservation lands, which would, in turn, protect our ailing springs and wetlands.

And how about a billion to get serious about alternative energy sources?  Solar in the Sunshine State?

Now, I’m happy to acknowledge that Ron DeSantis hasn’t been entirely useless during the pandemic that has shut us (mostly) down. He seems determined to grasp one particularly unpleasant nettle: that is, Florida’s cruelly dysfunctional unemployment compensation apparatus, a legacy of Rick Scott’s toxic two-term governorship.

He’s vowed to investigate why it cost nearly $78 million and why it seems to have been designed by drunken squirrels.

It may be that DeSantis is pursuing the lousy CONNECT system largely for political reasons–he could face Scott in a future presidential primary — or simply because he can’t stand the guy.

Whatever. Fixing a system designed to fail Florida’s most vulnerable is what matters. Anything that counters the “duh” in Floriduh is surely welcome.

There’s other sort-of hopeful news, too — if you believe in constitutional government, that is.

Florida may finally drag ourselves out of the Jim Crow era, when laws were designed to keep black men from exercising the franchise.

Ex-felons may finally get to vote.

Testifying before federal judge Robert Hinkle, Division of Elections Director Maria Edwards allowed as how the state kind of hasn’t gotten around to creating a form ex-felons could use to register to vote, even though they were required to do so.“We don’t have anything final at this point,” she said. “We’ve just been chatting about it.”

(Your tax dollars at work, Floridians.)

Judge Hinkle, apparently appalled, allowed as how he was inclined to rule in favor of allowing “returning citizens” to cast a ballot, despite our ignorant and venal legislature’s best efforts at voter suppression.

This, people, is what passes for progress in Florida. Let us cherish it.

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.