Saturday, November 17, 2012


'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free. 'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be. And when we find ourselves in the place just right, 'twill be in the valley of love and delight.

In the words of this Shaker hymn, I am grateful for the simple but great aspects of our lives that we shall never take for granted as they are eternal. The dawn of each morning brings us the light that has awakened our ancestors and will enliven our descendants. The first breath we took at our birth and the last that we draw as we reach the end of our weary path is from the same vital element of air that invigorated our forefathers and we give to our children and those who will inherit all that is beautiful in our world.

When I was a small boy, I eagerly rose from my bed to greet the sun and I zealously announced to my family that the sun indeed was up. No matter what turmoil or tumult encircled our fragile planet, I knew that a new day bore great promise for me and I wanted everyone to celebrate the promise of the first rays of light that struck my bedroom window.

The darkest hour of doubt and fear, the storm and tempest of uncertainty will always give way to God's light that illuminates our lives daily. The simple gift of waking to a new world is enough for me to express my gratitude. I open my eyes to a family that loves me, friends who cherish me, and work that has yet to be done. I know that I cannot do this alone and I am glad that great work can be made simpler with many hands working beside me.

And when I waje from this dream called life, I know that the breadth of my existence was the sum of the seemingly minute and minor things that comprised all that I knew, all that I experienced, and all that I embraced. The smiles, the laughter, the hopes, the wishes, the prayers, the peace and the love were part of the greater good I hope that I have done for my God and my brothers.

Once again, it is the season of thanks and I close with words from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Thanksgiving proclamation of 1942:

"Across the uncertain ways of space and time our hearts echo these words, for the days are with us again, at the gathering of the harvest, we solemnly express our dependence upon almighty God.

For this, we are eternally grateful. Amen.

Monday, November 12, 2012

A post-partisan Florida

The political system in Florida is bland and in need of some flavor that truly speaks to the voices of all Floridians. Ever since the Sunshine State flipped in favor of the current ruling majority, we have been missing the kind of red pepper that would bring the spice of variety to our public discussion and would create a system that truly works for all.

I lack any basic cooking skills, so I am not necessarily referring to a potluck that would throw someone of their bland diet. I speak metaphorically of the squashing of liberal and progressive voices at the hand of those who are more interested in perpetuating their own political power for their own means than on actually uniting a state that consists of more than just the yes men and women who cater to the needs of the ruling establishment.

Based on the gerrymandering of legislative districts and the wholesale auctioning of our agenda to the moneyed interests, one would not know that registered Democrats actually outnumber Republicans by nearly 400,000. Instead, we are subjected to an overconfident and cocky clique of politicians and lobbyists who wield their power like a club over their foes.

I remember that, in 2000, a mere 537 votes meant the difference between a Bush and a Gore administration for the nation, but the majority party chose to rule by fiat and mandate. They chose to eschew consensus for their ability to bully the powerless and exact revenge on those who disagree with them.

Our state's misplaced priorities were made manifest when they made the private issue of a brain-dead woman their priority while they attempted to write death warrants on public workers, labor unions, trial attorneys, environmental activists and those who stood in the way of their political dominance.

Our leaders did not become drunk with power on their own. The collective silence of the minority gave the false impression that Florida was willing to be led down the primrose path to fulfilling every whim designed by former governor Jeb Bush and the special interests who continued to ignore those who did not have the same access to the powers that be in Tallahassee.

In what may be an outlier of future election cycles, even the young Cubans of South Florida turned 'blue' as they have no concrete memory of the Cold War grudges that inspired a voting bloc to be firmly in the pocket of our state leadership. No longer can they be taken for granted and neither can the moderates and independents who live along Interstate 4. Hillsborough County ultimately held the keys to the White House for our 29 electoral votes and it will surely be pivotal to winning the governor's mansion.

For whatever criticism and abuse that was heaped upon former governor Charlie Crist, he should be lauded for his willingness to understand that leading means more than just pandering to the base of a party that turns a deaf ear to Floridians who are in dire need of representation and are desperate for more unity and less demonizing. The latest attempt by the state legislature to rig the rules of the game in their favor seemed to be a done deal because they had the super majority in the capitol, a lock on the state cabinet and buckets of money being tossed their way. What they did not count on was an equally powerful voice of people who rallied to finally say that they had enough with overreach and abuse from on high.

I am sure that we all assumed that Governor Rick Scott would have understood this when he defeated a Tallahassee insider to win his primary election for governor. We all assumed that an outsider would truly change the system for the better because he successfully made the case that he would do a much better job than the Democratic candidate whom he tagged as part of the dysfunctional system. He won by a slim margin because he showed promise. The promise of serving all Floridians, however, was bogged down by his reaching out to the same insiders whom he opposed when he originally decided to run for office.

While it is a smart choice to be fiscally responsible, the governor swapped his scalpel for a chainsaw with which he made devastating cuts to the educational system he promised to change. He opted to turn a deaf ear to the parents, teachers, school boards and superintendents who warned him that he and his administration were going too far. It did not really matter to our state's leadership because they had a firm grip on the levers of power and they would do anything in their power to stay on top.

I should know the impact of this draconian system of governance because I, along with many public workers, was forced to take a pay cut in order to balance our state's budget. I am confident that our state's Supreme Court will rule that this betrayal of our pension system dating back to the 1970s was indeed an abuse of our state's constitution.

The absolute power that resides in our state government, however, could not abide the rule of law. Our legislators, in their infinite wisdom, decided that it was time to mount a full-on attack on the sectors of government that would not tow the line. The laundry list of constitutional amendments and the assault on our judiciary branch failed because Floridians realized that the foundations of our state's political system were in danger.

What disappointed me most was the efforts of our state to shrink the window for early voting because they were dissatisfied with the results of previous elections. I know of no other time in our history that limiting voting resulted in a positive result for our citizens. I am proud that Floridians saw through this ploy and waited hours in line to show that they will not be scared or intimidated.

The arrogance of the likes of State Senator John Thrasher are even more pronounced as they claim to be victims of a powerful federal government that forces the states to relinquish their powers. The balance of power, however, has been ruined over the past generation as Tallahassee chose to usurp home rule in our 67 counties and our countless municipalities in the form of revenue policy that shifts the burden to local government, forces unfunded mandates onto our local governments and claims to be the advocates of less government.

The tide is turning in favor of more level-headed political discourse and I look forward to this trend continuing in 2014 as our state has a real debate on ideas and vision as opposed to wheelbarrows of cash pouring into the same hands that drove us into the mess that we are in today.

The red pepper? Former senator and congressman Claude Pepper is the kind of politician who we need to bring back balance to a truly purple state in a time when our leaders are less interested in leading than in dictating.

"If more politicians in this country were thinking about the next generation instead of the next election, it might be better for the United States and the world." - Claude Pepper