- Christopher Halloran
a Quiet down in the back! It’s timeto gently release those doughboy Gingrich balloons and fluorescent Romney mittens, because we have ourselves a winner. Who could have possibly guessed that Tuesday night’s Florida presidential preference primary would have ended up with that guy taking home the orange juice stakes? We mean, really, it’s like they were both the same person, anyway – one, the mean older brother version with gout and anger issues; the other, a sort of Eddie Haskell construct high on Grecian Formula concerns – so the outcome is more of a reflection of super PAC moneybombing and some Sports Center-meets-American Idol algorithm that calculates how dumb and mean the Republicans in the state actually are. But all is fair in hate and politics! Congratulations, Newtt Romrich!
While virtually no Republicans were watching from the dizzying lows of Wrestling With the Rich, U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., dipped into the Sunshine State for a Tampa “field hearing” on the voter suppression provided to Florida citizens by last year’s HB 1355. That bill (now law-ish), you’ll recall, reduced the number of days allowed for early voting, scrapped the last Sunday before election Tuesday as a voting option, threatened to fine those who made the huge mistake of sitting on voter registration applications for more than 48 hours and relegated transient voters into the unknown world of “provisional ballots” – you know, the ones that are rarely counted. Now, of course, each of these controversial provisions of the omnibus bill are still up for debate in five minority counties because of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, meaning that, even as Republicans were voting in their Tuesday primary, the whole thing was bound by confusion. Or, maybe not.
Seminole County Supervisor of Elections Mike Ertel, a Republican, claimed that the changes, which did go into effect in his county, didn’t cause “any difference in the GOP early voting,” according to state Rep. Scott Randolph, D-Orlando, who was in attendance. “What is that, two people?” Randolph’s key point is that minority votes – or, rather, how they are handled – are a pretty severe issue when it comes to Florida voting. Minorities are far more likely to update their voter registrations the day of an election – not as much free time, see – and their votes would then be more likely to fall into the stack of provisional ballots, of which, he says, less than 60 percent are counted. Ertel is quoted in the Tampa Bay Times as calling the new law “vital” in preventing voter fraud, saying that the Democrats were “fear-mongering”in their attempts to challenge it. By way of contrast, Leon County Supervisor of Elections Ion Sancho submitted testimony showing that there were only 31 investigations of voter fraud in Florida between 2006 and 2010, resulting in two convictions and one arrest – this in a state of 22.5 million eligible voters. “Today in Florida,” wrote Sancho, “a Floridian is 16 times more likely to be struck by lightning than to find voter fraud in our elections.”
Quick! A little back story for those still following. Ertel, a nice guy by most estimates, was named as a potential replacement for Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning – the man responsible for instituting the new voting laws – way back in January. Though he didn’t get the job, he still seems to be tiptoeing on the party line: You should earn your right to vote; shut up, liberals!
“The fact of the matter is that this legislation was passed on a pack of lies,” Howard Simon, the executive director of the ACLU of Florida, told us. Simon addressed two lawsuits challenging the law: the first filed by the ACLU of Florida and the Brennan Center for Justice, a non-partisan public policy and law institution, that is scheduled for hearings in March; the other, also involving the ACLU, made headlines last week when four Republican legislators opposed giving depositions in the case based on “legislative immunity and privilege,” reports the Orlando Sentinel. If that case drags into November, there will be measurable consequences. After all, Republicans are already bragging about their ramped up voter registration in Florida, while more reasonable – meaning legitimate – groups have been tamping down their efforts for fear of recourse.
Whether the meeting was a call to arms or a bit of preaching to the choir remains to be seen, but, at least to Simon, it’s part of bigger picture involving the more than a dozen states either passing or debating similar voting restrictions.
“Wake up, voters in other states,” he says. “This is coming to a theater near you.”
Meanwhile, in our state’s illustrious capital village – er, city – of Tallahassee, students from across Florida gathered outside the phallic pleasure centerthat serves as our legislative base camp to protest dickish budget cuts to the higher education budget. Citing skyrocketing tuition rates that have increased 60 percent in the past four years and a proposal to remove students’ representation on the Florida Board of Governors, the state group that manages the 11 public universities in Florida, the Florida Student Association – a group that officially represents students at every state university except for Florida State (“Just say Noles?”) – organized an event called “Rally in Tally” to show lawmakers just how much students cared about getting access to good education at low costs, something championed at the event by Democratic and Republican lawmakers alike. Current proposals before the legislature would increase college tuition another 15 percent next academic year, and while the chancellor of the State University System and former president of Florida Atlantic University, Frank Brogan, said that Florida’s tuition rates are the fifth-lowest in the country, such a distinction may not last much longer – especially if crowds of more than 200 students from across the state keep banging down the doors of the Capitol.
“I think Rally in Tally was a very productive use of students’ time and I think we made some progress on a lot of the issues,” says Michael Long, a sophomore at New College of Florida and chairman of the FSA. Long, who is also the student representative on the board of governors, says that while lawmakers were receptive to the students’ requests, there were still “predetermined answers to a lot of our questions.” Your government cares about you, you pretty young things.
Even though FSU students may not have been officially rallying in their home city, they’re still taking part in the War on Education™currently plaguing our state. The university has come under fire for accepting a donation from the Charles Koch (rhymes with coke!) Foundation, a group describing itself as one advocating for advanced “economic freedom.” Charles is one half of the Koch brothers, a pair of right-wing billionaires who trickle their money down to advocate for all of those lovely conservative principles like advocating that global warming is a hoax. But apparently FSU’s student senate is Koch-ed out and is bringing forth a resolution denouncing their school’s acceptance of the $6.5 million in grant money over the next six years to endow positions in the economics department, replete with the right to have a say in the hiring process and review employment if profs don’t meet certain goals, like not praising Hayek (Friedrich, not Selma) enough times a day (totally kidding). Jokes aside, FSU’s senate says, “No public institution should accept funding that is conditional upon a willingness to fulfill or conform to a private entity’s ideological goals.” Hear, hear.
Nothing says more about a city than the design of its public transportation. Cities that adorn their buses in sleek advertising wraps are opportunistic go-getters always looking for ways to subsidize the cost of their gas-guzzling people movers,for example, and cities that put bike racks on their buses fancy themselves to be like Portlandia.
Orlando’s Lynx bus system has long been branded pink – not hot pink or salmon or berry, but bright, Pepto-Bismol pink – with a snazzy little paw print to give it some pop. Which says what, exactly, about our city? That it makes us sick to our stomachs to think of riding public transportation? That we love Valentine’s Day? That buses are mainly for old ladies who love cats? We aren’t really sure. But last year, Lynx decided it was time to freshen up its image, break away from the color of internal organs and go with something sleeker, fresher, more forward thinking.
Its new color scheme, at least until they got called out on it and dropped a reported $83,000 on a redesigned website that’s since changed back: Blue (“represents the sky we live under”), pewter (“represents the ground we walk on”)and green (“the environment we live in”). The goal, according to a memo sent to employees on June 23, 2011, “is to make Lynx the first choice in Central Florida, not the last.”
We’re glad they explained it, because for a minute there we thought maybe they were trying to disguise themselves so they could hide from the Amalgamated Transit Union employees, who’ve been protesting the company’s attempts to cut back benefits for workers – 0.5 percent raises, reduction in overtime pay and more. Lynx employees haven’t had a raise in about four years, they point out, and the contracts the company is trying to put in front of them is looking like a pretty raw deal.
At least they can now rest well knowing that the company’s (maybe?) new font is Serpentine, “a typeface that is unique and modern, with moving characteristics,” and that the company is moving away from using words with all caps, “with far less character,” in favor of smaller letters that “give words a distinctive look.” It’s harder to read “fail” when it’s printed smaller.