Commentary

Committee week in Florida’s Capitol: Welcome to the festival of ignorance

It’s all about sparing white people’s feelings, y’all

September 24, 2021 7:00 am

The Florida Capitol on Jan. 20, 2021. Credit: Michael Moline/Florida Phoenix

Legislators came to town for the autumn ritual of political harlotry they call “committee week.” Tallahassee’s collective IQ dropped by a good 60 points.

That’s bad, but what they propose doing to Florida is worse.

Seems Sen. Joe Gruters, R-$ara$ota, who also is chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, was intimately involved with a plot to quash the Democratic vote.

Remember that “voting reform” bill the governor signed on “Fox and Friends” last May? The one that restricts access to ballot drop-boxes, limits vote-by-mail applications, forbids giving people standing in long lines a bottle of water, and lets partisan poll watchers police canvassing boards?

Even though Florida ran an immaculate election in 2020, Republicans goose-stepped in time with the Madman of Mar-a-Lago and claimed with straight faces they merely wanted to prevent election “fraud” — which is about as common as polar bears in Miami. (What fraud there was, was courtesy of the GOP.)

Joe Gruters

The indefatigable Gary Fineout of Politico got his mitts on some damning text messages between Gruters and Rep. Blaise Ingoglia. This ain’t fake news, y’all: Gruters says he wants to cancel existing vote-by-mail requests because they would be “devastating” to Republican candidates.

Mail-in ballots used to favor Republicans, but 2020 spooked them. Gruters texted, “We got killed,” and added, “We cannot make up ground. Trump campaign spent 10 million. Could not cut down lead.”

Wait, it gets better (or worse, depending on your attitude to voter suppression): Ingoglia sought advice from Ben Gibson, the party’s top counsel and lawyer for Republicans in the lawsuits challenging Florida’s new election laws.

Ingoglia insisted there was no political motive here: “This was a policy decision all along and had nothing to do with partisan reasons.”

Lest you think subverting our democratic system is all Sen. Gruters is up to these days, note that he is behind a bill to ban “divisive topics” in “all public schools, both government-run and charter, all 12 public Florida universities, all 28 state colleges, all state agencies, all county and municipal governments, and all private government contractors.”

Students of Florida take note: Your state now demands your teachers lie to you.

Florida state Rep. Randy Fine. Credit: Florida House of Representatives

The House version of this atrocity was introduced by Rep. Randy Fine, R-Pyongyang, who, like Sen. Gruters and so many in the Trump Party, appear unfamiliar with the United States Constitution.

Friendly note to Rep. Fine, Sen. Gruters, and the rest of the Trumpist True Believers: There’s this thing called the First Amendment. That’s the one that protects citizens’ speech rights from the government.

Of course, the play here isn’t to necessarily implement Trumpist state ideology — dumb as these white folks are, they have lawyers who know they’ll lose in court, even in DeSantis’s tame right-wing courts. The play is to make their snarling voter base think they’re protecting the Disney cartoon version of America.

White people, you see, are so fragile they must never, ever be made to feel even a smidgen of “discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex” about, say, the genocide of native people, slavery, Andersonville, the Ocoee Massacre, the Trail of Tears, or any other of the late unpleasantness that has shaped our history.

OK, the bill doesn’t specifically say “white people,” but that’s what it means.

The American Association of University Professors, the American Historical Association, and dozens of other expert groups are not impressed: “The clear goal of these efforts is to suppress teaching and learning about the role of racism in the history of the United States. Purportedly, any examination of racism in this country’s classrooms might cause some students ‘discomfort’ because it is an uncomfortable and complicated subject. But the ideal of informed citizenship necessitates an educated public.”

An “educated public” is precisely what MAGA conservatives fear.

It’s an enduring mystery how Republicans, many of whom go to good colleges and somehow even manage to pass the Bar exam, are so determined to be ignorant. But, as Upton Sinclair observed, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

Dr. Joseph Ladapo is shown with Gov. Ron DeSantis on Sept. 21, 2021. Credit: Michael Moline

Which brings us to Florida’s new surgeon general, Dr. Joseph Ladapo. He’s not an epidemiologist, but he plays one on TV.

He replaces Scott Rivkees, the former state SG exiled by the DeSantis administration after suggesting in a 2020 coronavirus briefing that social distancing might be a good idea.

Ladapo is much more DeSantis’ kind of guy. He’s not keen on mask-wearing, but hearts hydroxychloroquine, horse de-wormer and herd immunity. He’s OK with vaccines, but thinks they’re overrated, “treated almost like a religion.”

“There is nothing special about them compared to any other preventive measure,”says Ladapo, adding that you could just exercise more and eat fruit.

In July 2020, Ladapo attended a conference in DC at which “doctors” assured the nation that demon sperm is the cause of many common gynecological issues and the COVID vaccine is an “experimental biological agent.”

No doubt Dr. Ladapo will soon inform us that leeches can help us restore balance in our four humors, and a rattlesnake skin soaked in corn liquor will cure rheumatism.

Webster Barnaby, the only Black Republican in the Florida House, takes his oath of office in 2021. Credit: House of Representatives

And speaking of medical matters, Rep. Webster Barnaby of Deltona, who advertises himself as a pastor known to lead the prayer at Trump rallies, just filed a bill pretty much identical to that Handmaid’s Tale-style forced-birth law in Texas.

Given that Ron DeSantis and his pet lawmakers mean to Texas your Florida, chances of it passing seem pretty good. House Speaker Chris Sprowls says he’s “always fought for unborn babies,” and Senate President Wilton Simpson has signaled his approval.

The governor seems to like the idea, too.

When asked why “my body, my choice” applies to vaccines and masking but not for women exercising reproductive freedom, DeSantis’ finely-honed legal mind produced the following pile of word compost: “Well, I think the difference is between — the right to life is that another life is at stake. Whereas whether you’re doing stuff is really … if you’ve put something in your body or not, it doesn’t affect other people. So that’s in terms of protecting another life.”

He added, “At the end of the day, government was instituted for certain reasons, to protect life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

One legislator who’s not happy at the moment, not happy at all, is Rep. Anthony Sabatini, R-Kalashnikov-in-the-Closet, author of bills to allow you to pack heat anywhere, anytime, anyhow and rename U.S. Highway 27 — known as “Florida’s Urethra” — after Donald Trump.

He’s been sent to live in the Capitol basement.

But like all great freedom fighters in exile — think Fidel in the Sierra Maestra, plotting the Battle of Yaguajay, or Mussolini organizing the March on Rome — Sabatini’s not taking this lying down, by God.  He’s tweeting: “RINO Speaker of the House in Florida, beta @ChrisSprowls (the guy who kills the Pro-Life, Pro-2A, & E-Verify Bills each year) moved my legislative office because he’s BIG mad I call him out.”

Sources say Sabatini also stamped his little foot and is threatening to scream till he’s sick.

Your tax dollars at work, y’all.

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Diane Roberts
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.

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