Two things going on in Florida, both speaking to the vision of our governor, Jeb Bush.

This is not about the Florida state troopers posted menacingly in black precincts on election day a couple of years ago, or Jeb’s assuring his brother that he would not lose Florida.

This is not about Jeb’s cutting Florida’s intangible property tax – which only the wealthiest Floridians pay – in half, while leaving taxes on everyone else unchanged . . . and then slashing drug treatment programs . . . of which I have written before.

This is about two other things going on in Florida, with breaking news in just the last couple of days.

The first is a rerun of Anita Bryant’s 1977 campaign to overturn an ordinance that protected gays and lesbians from discrimination. She was successful, and it was not until December 1, 1998, that the Miami-Dade County Commission passed a new ordinance making it illegal to discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation – just as it is illegal to discriminate based on race, sex, national origin, age, religion, or disability. Now, the Religious Right is out to see that repealed, to assure that gays and lesbians can be discriminated against.

It would be bad for tourism, to be sure, and hurt the county’s economy. But it’s just like cheating or stealing or marrying a non-virgin bride – the Bible proscribes it and no more need be said. (Hold that cheating/stealing thought for a minute though, won’t you?) They are determined to see the human rights ordinance repealed on September 10, and have gathered tens of thousands of signatures to put their repeal initiative on the ballot.

It’s actually open to some debate whether the Bible, least of all the New Testament, proscribes love between two people of the same sex. Clearly, love is OK – love in fact is encouraged on virtually every page – but same-sex physical relations are proscribed in the Old Testament. I would argue that it is same-sex relations between God’s heterosexual children that were intended to be proscribed. But that’s a different column. The point is, these people feel deeply that it is their calling to get the voters of Miami-Dade to the polls September 10 to proclaim gays and lesbians unworthy of equal protection under the law.

You gotta respect someone who feels that strongly about living a highly moral life, even if you don’t necessarily see it the same way.

So isn’t it interesting (here comes the cheating/stealing part) that one of the leaders of Take Back Miami and two of his followers were arrested for fraud Friday?

August 17, 2002

Christian coalition chief accused
of falsifying gay rights petition
By David Cázares
Florida Sun-Sentinel Miami Bureau

MIAMI — The head of the Miami-Dade County Christian Coalition, a key figure in a battle to repeal anti-discrimination protections for gay men and lesbians, was arrested on Friday for allegedly lying on the petitions that propelled a referendum on whether voters should repeal the measure onto the Sept. 10 ballot.

And therein lies a tale.

The short form is that the alleged petition fraud was completely evident – pages and pages of signatures in exactly the same handwriting, for example – more than a year ago. But this is Jeb Bush’s Florida. When the Miami-Dade state’s attorney finally got close to filing charges, Governor Bush moved the case to tiny Polk County, near Orlando, which lacked the resources easily to pursue it.

But pursued it ultimately was, which is a heartening thing (and too long a story for this column), and the result was the arrests of the deeply moral leader of the Miami-Dade County Christian Coalition.

I know it’s Florida, but you’re really not supposed to forge pages and pages of signatures. Even in Florida, election fraud is a crime.

It looks as if the initiative will remain on the September 10 ballot. But perhaps this latest event will discourage some of the big money from flowing in to support it. Or, well, maybe not. The Take-Back Miami take on this is a press release headlined, “Homosexualist Extremists Hide Behind Arrests of Pro-Family Citizens.” A homosexualist extremist, I guess, is essentially anyone who supports the Miami-Dade human rights ordinance, including, I guess, the county commissioners who enacted it.

“Desperately seeking to undermine the much-needed repeal of Miami-Dade County Florida’s highly unpopular ‘sexual orientation’ amendment,” the press release explains, “politically well-connected homosexualist extremists have instigated the baseless and unwarranted arrests of pro-repeal citizens.”

Yep – we got Bush in our pocket. Does basically anything we want.

(The opposition to Take-Back Miami is led by a group called Save Dade, which has secured the endorsement of almost everyone who is anyone in South Florida, including the AFL-CIO, the Beacon Council (a business group) and the Miami Chamber of Commerce – extremists all, I guess – though not, of course, the endorsement of Governor Jeb Bush.)

With luck, the outcome September 10, 2002, will be quite different from the outcome June 7, 1977, with Anita Bryant and her group, “Save Our Children.” The world has come a long way since then. (The mayors of Paris and Berlin are both openly gay; one of the two American political parties openly embraces the equal rights of its gay and lesbian citizens; and so on.)

But isn’t the name of Anita Bryant’s 1977 group – Save Our Children – an interesting segue? Because if there’s one thing we virtually all quite genuinely care about, it’s children.

And that’s one of the reasons it’s been so awful to see Jeb Bush’s Department of Children and Families in Florida losing them.

You remember the national attention focused on that little girl whom the department simply lost? She is still not found.

And did you see where one of the Department’s workers was found slumped over the wheel of her car, drunk, with a 7-month old foster child in the back? The Department failed to do a background check on the woman.

And did you see where the Department put out a list of “lost children” and the Sun-Sentinel immediately published the whereabouts of 9 of them?

So a few days ago, Governor Bush tossed out the Department chief he had been defending for months and put in, as head of Florida’s Department of Children and Families, a fellow named Jerry Regier from Oklahoma, a good fundamentalist Christian who it turns out had his name attached to a 1989 paper saying that women should be subservient to men, that they should stay at home if they have children, and that it was okay to inflict corporal punishment on children that produced welts and bruises, so long as the welts and bruises were not permanent.

The Miami Herald discovered all this with a simple Google search.

(I did a Google search of my own – on nothing more than “Regier bruises” – and got this when I clicked the I’m Feeling Lucky button. And a friend sent this amusing column from the Herald.)

Regier has apparently disavowed that paper, and Jeb has accepted that disavowal and stands by his choice.

So there may not be money in Florida to decrease overcrowding in elementary schools – that money went to cut the intangible property tax on the wealthy in half – but at least we can rest easy that every compassionate effort, short of spending money, is being made to promote the welfare of Florida’s children.

It is a grand time to be rich and powerful in America.

 

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