Not that you would have noticed through the cacophony of Floridian economic failure, but there is only one political issue that apparently matters in the Sunshine State, and that issue, rather hauntingly, is abortion. How do we know this? Because on Friday, April 30, the last day of this year's legislative session, the Florida House of Representatives whittled away nearly all of its productivity potential by square dancing around the hot-button issue while the rest of the state fell apart.
At issue was a last-minute amendment to a health care bill by Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, in which women seeking first-trimester abortions would be mandated to undergo ultrasounds just so that they would be better informed on the choice they are making -- or be scared to Jesus. Of course, the fact is that ultrasounds will significantly decrease the affordability of abortions to those who need them the most, thereby further dragging down social services and pumping up crime statistics. Regardless, the bill squeaked by in the Senate on Wednesday with a 23-16 vote (another amendment was also added to make it clear that Floridians did not support even private health insurance companies covering abortion-related costs because Obamacare will probably be lining the insurers' ;pockets, meaning you're paying for abortions).
The bill – and its amendments – sailed through the House as well by a 76-44 margin but not before providing an infuriating glimpse into just how horrific Florida politics have become. You know that whole "it's for the good of the patient" rhetoric that the measure was floated on? Well, tell that to Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, who took his time to explode the "pro-death" abortion issue into the "Holocaust" (a move for which he was reprimanded by Jewish Rep. Richard Steinberg, D-Miami). Hays wasn't the only starched suit wearing a bloody cross on his sleeve; one legislator grotesquely referred to his 5-month-old daughter as "still in my wife's belly," while others clung to their states' rights guns and took aim at ;Roe v. Wade.
The fact remained that nobody would be changing anyone's political mind, a truth that Rep. Scott Randolph, D-Orlando, acknowledged even while tearfully recounting his own wife's near-brush with abortion when the couple miscarried last year. Randolph decried the majority party's "small government" agenda by reminding them that in the past six years they've worked toward government "so small that it could fit down a tube into an individual woman's throat named Terri Schiavo; this decade we have shown time and again that you want government so small that it can fit under someone's bedroom door; and members, this year you are showing that you want government so small that it could fit between a woman's leg and into her uterus." Ouch. Many legislators are now putting their hopes on the newly independent "people's governor" Charlie Crist to veto the bill. Good luck, there.
Planned Parenthood of Greater Orlando president Sue Idtensohn doesn't foresee the amendment having a direct effect on her organization's procedures, mostly because PPGO already includes ultrasounds in its abortion procedures. She does however recognize that the whole package of amendments – including limits on private employers' insurance coverage for abortion-related issues – is a direct affront on human rights, specifically those of women.
"It's like saying if you're a gay man, you have to have two policies in case you get HIV," she says. "Make no mistake about it, this is a direct attack on Roe v. Wade, a direct attack on women, a direct attack dictating to private health providers as to what they can and cannot do. And it's all centered around a woman's uterus."
Next year, she suspects, there will be more restrictions, possibly a waiver for women to sign stating that they have agreed to kill their babies. We're (darkly) taking bets on whether abortion patients will soon be forced to name their fetuses. Happy conception day!
In other overwrought;political news, you probably heard that (alleged) drag queen county commissioner and mayoral hopeful Mildred Fernandez got herself into a little bit of trouble last week by means of a bribery sting operation over ill-gotten campaign donations – allegedly, she was taking money for her campaign coffers in exchange for county development consideration. Bad Mildred!
Well, ever since the governor suspended her from her district four commission seat on April 27, speculation has been running wild over who Crist might appoint to take her place. Early on, Republicans were floating the name of perpetual electoral failure Belinda Ortiz – who is no stranger to convoluted controversy (see "Sex, lies and a manila envelope," Oct. 7, 2009) – but that was before Crist jumped the Republican Party of Florida ship on April 29 to run sans party affiliation for the U.S. Senate. At the time it seemed like Ortiz might be an attractive olive branch between Crist and the angry party, as well as being a handy conservative Hispanic well suited for the district. Now, not so much. Turns out, it may be a while before Crist gets around to caulking that Orange County hole.
"The Governor will make an interim appointment to the County Commission, a process which will begin with the Governor's Appointments Office accepting applications from individuals interested in serving on the commission," says Crist's press secretary Sterling Ivey in an e-mail. "State law does not provide a specific time frame for when an appointment must be completed, but on average the entire process may take up to 12 weeks to complete. At this time, we have not received any applications so Ms. Ortiz would not be considered at this point. If, however, she sends in an application she may certainly be considered in the pool of applications."
Since then, we've heard a couple of names floated around, including that of John Kelly Harris, the candidate who lost to Fernandez when she was last re-elected in 2008. More promising for the position is the aforementioned Rep. Scott Randolph, who has been whispered around as a contender for the seat since Fernandez announced her mayoral candidacy last August. He's already got the support of the police and fire unions on the matter and could make a tasty political appetizer to Central Florida's ;progressive community if Crist plays his cards right. Also, this is Florida so crazier things ;have happened.
OMG you guyz, Orange ;County Public Schools is so hip and with-it and down! At the April 27 board meeting, community relations director Dylan Thomas crowed that the school district's Facebook page has topped 1,000 fans in only seven months. That may not sound like much of an achievement for a district that should be drawing on about 400,000 parents, students and staff, but hey, it's what they've got.
Barbara Jenkins, Thomas' boss, lauded him for doing so much "community outreach" on a shoestring budget (how much do Facebook pages cost, anyway?), but alas, the great news didn't make the board meeting highlights sent out the next day. Maybe they realized that not only had the city of Orlando bested that achievement sixfold in only three more months, but that this is a social medium where charismatic pickles regularly attract hundreds of thousands of fans.
Either way, there's a long way to go before the city or the school system can gaze evenly across a level field at mighty Orange County, which has 16,503 Facebook fans.
Oh, wait – that's Orange County, California.;firstname.lastname@example.org