Florida Fodder

* Two issues–allowing ex-felons (not convicted of murder or sex crimes) to vote once they have completed their sentences and making driving-while-texting a primary offense–are not typically paired. But they should be.

The reason is cut-to-the-chase simple. It’s common sense and public safety. And the “public” is us. All of us non-ex-felons and all of us non-texting drivers. We’re all at risk.

Here’s hoping the Legislature will keep in mind that nearly two-thirds of the electorate voted for Amendment 4 and can clear up any rights-restoring details without playing partisan, ideological cards. But it should also know that ex-felons who are not integrated back into society have a scary recidivism rate. It’s what happens to those who’ve paid their dues but still find themselves disenfranchised with problematic prospects for the rest of their marginalized lives. No good results.

As for drivers who text, that has to finally become a primary offense. Right now it’s still a secondary offense, meaning recklessly not paying attention behind the wheel is not reason enough to get pulled over. With the rate of distracted driving accidents ever ratcheting, it only makes sense that the state should crack down on those who would imperil the rest of us on the road.

This isn’t about doing the right, responsible thing in the abstract. This is about doing what’s in our literal self interest. It’s about all of us. How’s that for a constituency?

* It looks like Florida Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis will be naming Richard Corcoran as the next education commissioner. Corcoran, the acerbic, former House Speaker, is also a charter-school champion. I miss Betty Castor.

Electoral Reality

Now that the “Flori-duh” version of the mid-term election is behind us, there are the usual musings about what we can do better. How we can improve the process and work toward uniformity. Etc. But the bottom line for any version of viable democracy remains this: an electorate that is involved, informed, motivated and not vulnerable to blatant dog whistles, unscrupulous social media and tribal group think. That’s more of a threat than voter suppression or fraud.

“Flori-duh” Not “Fraud-ida”

* As it unsurprisingly turns out, no, there was no game-changing fraud afoot in the Florida mid-term election, just the usual incompetence and cluelessness in the usual places. So much for the politically-charged, “rampant fraud” allegations of Senator-elect Rick Scott, who, ironically, should recognize fraud when he sees it. He oversaw it with Columbia-HCA.

* The voting fiasco here is a function of what media members recognize as sausage-making. Process never looks as good as final product–whether it’s the making of a documentary or a law. It’s never pretty behind the scenes, whether it’s editing or legislative compromising. When it comes to voting, most elections don’t warrant re-counts, thereby precluding the sort of scrutiny that would remind us about ballot design, voter carelessness or weird signature scenarios. In fact, from 2000 to 2016, there were only 26 statewide recounts nationally. That’s out of more than 4,600 statewide general elections.

In Florida, we had (an unprecedented) three statewide recounts. That resulted in a lot of sausage and more national ridicule for the state that never really recovered from “hanging chads” notoriety. While incompetence is not the same as corruption, it’s hardly consoling.

Active Shooter Overkill

As we’ve been reminded recently, when the Florida Legislature drafted new laws to make schools safer, it included a requirement for schools to hold active shooter drills. But it didn’t specify how many. Presumably common sense would carry the day in each county.

Well, that doesn’t seem to apply to Pinellas County, which will have active assailant drills monthly–or 10 times this year. A number of parents have complained. That many drills, they worry, will more likely reinforce fear than expedite a safety precaution. Can only imagine how Pinellas County handled the duck-and-cover school drills during the Cold War nuclear crisis.

Statewide Signs

* For the first time since Florida became a swing state, more vote by mail ballots are being sent to Democrats than to Republicans this year. The change can be seen as a savvy sign of party enthusiasm–and the results of field efforts that placed a priority on VBM requests. It’s also a reminder of a principle that has to be in play: When Democrats vote, Democrats win. MAGA memes notwithstanding.

* Amid notably improved Democratic prospects, the statewide bottom line is still this: The only way Rick Scott wins the senate race is by replicating how he won his previous gubernatorial races. That is, spend a lot of money, robotically repeat a con-jobs mantra about the economy–and then count on an uninspiring opponent and an uninspired, off-year, Democratic base. In short, he can’t win without Democratic complicity.

For All Of Us

When it comes to Amendment 4, which needs 60 percent voter approval to pass, let’s make this as appealing as we can. This is not just about ex-felons who have met all the terms and conditions of their sentencing. This is about ALL OF US. The recidivism rate for ex-felons who remain disenfranchised is dramatically higher than for those who have had their rights restored. And right now, those disenfranchised ex-felons number about 1.7 million. Moreover, minorities are disproportionately impacted.

This is in everyone’s self-interest, because society at large is inevitably and adversely impacted. I’m tempted to say “enlightened self-interest,” but the usual right-wing opposition would probably deride that as “elitist.”

It’s also fiscally smart. Since ex-felons who have been reintegrated into society are much less likely to re-enter the criminal justice system, the money saved is no pittance. In fact, the Washington Economic Group has estimated the savings at more than $300 million. There’s also an obvious upside to ex-felons’ increased job earnings and taxes paid.

Last–but only for pragmatic, referendum-passage purposes–is that Amendment 4 embodies what is simply fair to those–excluding those convicted of sexual and/or violent crimes–who deserve to be reinstated into society. It’s only fair to those who have fulfilled their end of the sentencing obligation to get a second chance. And it’s only fair to the rest of us too.

Nelson Ads

Sen. Bill Nelson doesn’t have the resources that Gov. Rick Scott does in their senatorial race. But Nelson just spent wisely on two 30-second ads. One uses video of Scott mouthing one of his mantras: “Results speak for themselves.” They are juxtaposed to graphics and a voiceover underscoring issues ranging from health-coverage denials and education cuts to the toxic algae crisis and portfolio self-interest while in office. The “one’s own words” approach is never bad political strategy.

The other ad reinforces the political axiom that a candidate shouldn’t go solely negative, even if said candidate doesn’t have a high-profile, high-accomplishment congressional track record. This one references Nelson’s space flight from back in the day–a reality that a good chunk of this electorate is surely clueless about. Nelson reflects on his literal view of America from space. “I look back at Earth. I didn’t see religious divisions. I didn’t see political divisions. I didn’t see racial divisions. What I saw is we’re all in this together. If we just remembered that, we’d get a lot more done.”

Vintage DeSantis

Amid all the issues impacting this state–from coastal environment concerns, public education funding and health care priorities to assault-weapon bans, improved mass transit and a Florida-first approach to Cuba–we get a self-serving head’s up from Rick DeSantis that we need to be on the alert for anti-Israel bias in school textbooks. Even Boca Raton residents will see right through this.