A Political Rebirth?

24 01 2009

By Kartik Krishnaiyer

On Friday the St Petersburg Times Buzz Blog reported that Rick Dantzler, one of the most intelligent and qualified Democrats in Florida is considering a political comeback. Dantzler has been out of office since resigning his State Senate seat in 1998 and has not sought office since dropping out of the race for Agriculture Commission in in 2001.

Dantzler is from Winter Haven which has always been the right part of the state to run from. From 1941 to 1989, Polk County produced one of Florida’s two US senators and of course from 1991 through 1998 a Governor as well. Polk County is perceived a rural and small townish much like the Panhandle, but may Tallahassee politicos don’t realize the sheer number of people that live in the sleepy southern styled county.

On a trip to meet with Rick Dantzler during his Agriculture Commission race, I  discussed the value of a Polk County based candidate in the car with my fellow travelers, all of whom were Tallahassee residents. When I cited the population numbers for the area and the general appeal those who get elected in county generally have statewide, we had a general consensus: Polk County is perhaps the best political base in the state to run from. (For those wondering Polk County had close to 600,000 residents according to the 2007 population estimates, which is about 2 1/2 times as many people as Leon or Alachua Counties).

During that campaign for Agriculture Commissioner Dantzler impressed me as he had in 1998 when he ran for Governor and then LT. Gov. with his command of state issues and his understanding of localized problems throughout different parts of Florida. But Dantzler’s head wasn’t in the Agriculture Commissioner race. I was tasked with accompanying him to a speech at the Indian River DEC’s annual dinner. There,  Dantzler gave his speech, then left before the dinner was complete heading home on SR 60 late at night and towards political oblivion. He dropped out of the race soon thereafter.

But in this time of economic crisis and absent leadership in this state, someone like Rick Dantzler is sorely needed in state government. The St Pete Times indicated that he was interested in the Congressional seat that will presumably be vacated by Adam Putnam who is likely to run for Agriculture Commissioner. Dantzler, a moderate Democrat who is more of a problem solver than an ideologue should consider running for Governor instead of Congress.

Florida is currently governed by a lightweight with a second rate mind whose every move is dictated by political considerations. Our state needs a non political problem solver whose not going to make rash decisions based on the current headwinds in the state. Dantzler would be one of the best potential Democrats who could run for Governor. Another would be Mayor Buddy Dyer of Orlando, who served with Dantzler in the State Senate.  Dyer and Dantzler ironically worked together with Attorney General Butterworth to create a piece of legislation to save the Tobacco lawsuit of Governor Chiles in 1996 while Senator Crist and his co-horts in the Republican Party were working to repeal to law that allowed for the suit.

Dantzler’s talents and expertise are needed in Florida: not just by the Democrats but by the state. Hopefully he’ll jump back into politics and seek a state office rather than a federal one.





Was the I-10 Expansion Project Justified?

23 01 2009

By Kartik Krishnaiyer

In 2001 the Florida Department of Transportation announced their intention to expand Interstate 10 through Tallahassee. At the same time stretches of Interstate highways through the Fort Myers/Naples area, Brevard County and Polk County that were burdened with incredible traffic loads due to rapid population increases were told to wait until later.

Interstate 10 in Florida does not carry a large amount of “interstate traffic.” That is why the federal government in the 1990s provided money for expansion of I-75 as a connecting traffic route between the Florida/Georgia line and Wildwood as well as for I-95 between Jacksonville and the I-4 junction near Daytona Beach.

I-10 is a route that traverses through sparsely populated areas between Okaloosa County and Jacksonville. Leon County is in fact the only county that exceeds 100,000 residents in the 300 miles between Crestview and Jacksonville. This is in direct contrast to I-95 whose entire path South of Jacksonville is through counties that exceed 100,000 residents with the exception of geographically compact Flagler County.

Yet, the 1-95 expansion through Brevard County, which has almost twice the residents of Leon County was delayed for several years. Additionally, I-95 is used as a route to travel from point to point within Brevard County more than I-10 is within Leon County which is centered around one urban area.

Today the I-95 is finally being expanded from Palm Bay northward to the junction with the Beachline Expressway/SR 528.  Congressman Connie Mack had to fight vigorously for federal funding to expand an incredibly congested stretch of I-75 from Naples to just South of Fort Myers. Construction began on this stretch of road last year a full three years after the I-10 project began construction. Yet the area covered by the highway expansion has more than twice as many residents and perhaps ten times as many annual tourists as the area of the I-10 expansion.

Work on I-4 in Polk County still needs to be done: this stretch of highway from Lakeland to Haines City has been badly congested since the mid 1980s. At some point Central Florida’s major expressway is going to have to be a seamless travel route from Tampa to Daytona Beach connecting a rapidly emerging mega metropolitan area. Punting on this while state money was spent on a relatively minor problem was foolish.

Yet the state spent $152.5 million to expand a road just outside the state capitol that did not need expansion. The decision to expand I-10 when FDOT bagan the project delayed other critical items proposed by Governor Bush in the Mobility 2000 plan further into the future. Can this expense be justified in a time of budget crisis and other real traffic needs for Florida?





Obama’s Southern Problem

22 01 2009

By Kartik Krishnaiyer

Barack Obama is our President and America is better for it. Actually the world is better for it as the United States is seen in a new light abroad. For all the love my fellow liberals give European society a man of Obama’s racial makeup would not only not get elected in most western European countries but he’d struggle to get 10% of the vote in notoriously racist societies like France and Spain.

One perceived racist society that gave Obama a good chunk of its votes in November was the South. Contrary to the expectations of many national pundits who hail from the Northeast and think the worst of southern society, Obama was more competitive in the region than the last two Democratic Presidential nominees, one of which was actually a southerner. It’s no coincidence that more African-Americans are elected from the South than the North and that Virginia which voted for Obama elected a black governor long before any Northern state.

But sadly President Obama’s inclusiveness of his transition and inaugural has not included much deference to the South. The constant comparisons and linking with Abraham Lincoln for starters is a problem. While Lincoln may be popular historically among Obama voters in the northeast and midwest he is not popular among southerners, even some yellow dog southern democrats who surely voted for Obama. Secondly, Obama’s cabinet and sub cabinet has fewer representatives from the south, the nation’s most populated region than any other part of America.

Symbolism is important, and it is critical for Obama’s Administration to take the spirit of hope he has created for the rest of the nation and make sure it applies to every part of the country. It’s no secret the media elites based in New York and Los Angeles have a built in bias against anything southern. Obama needs to work to overcome this reality and work with the South.

I along with everyone else at this website supports President Obama. But as the new President works to heal the division within our country, he would be wise to pay closer attention to the South in his rhetoric and his appointments.





Lawson’s Shot Across The Bow

21 01 2009

It may have gone relatively unnoticed during last week’s Special Session, but the Senate Democrats finally have a leader who is going to aggressively define party’s positions. Additionally,  Senate Democratic Leader Al Lawson isn’t going to be swayed by the “charm offensive” of Governor Crist.

For two years the Democratic Party stood impotent in opposition to a Governor whose moral fabric is weak and who lacks any courage in his convictions to lead. Thus was found ourselves in a budget crisis as the “me too” rhetoric of Democrats matched the adrift boat of the GOP Leadership and the Governor.

The Democrats have been lap dogs for too long in the Legislature. Allowing personality to dictate whether to engage on an issue or not is quite frankly pretty silly. But yet the Senate Democrats have picked their fights, and sometimes the wrong ones for years now. Rather than engaging on the economic issues which clearly separate the parties, the Democrats have either cut deals or been swayed by the assurances from Republicans.

This has left the Democratic Party in the Florida Senate without a clear ideology or set of defining principles. Senator Lawson’s decision last week to step out of this mold and call upon the Governor to veto significant portions of the budget which the Legislature passed indicated a positive posture for the party. Going forward this will not only serve the Democrats well at the ballot box but will serve the citizens of Florida positively as we will the sort of vigorous debate on critical issues that has been lacking in the state recently.





Martin Luther King’s Political Impact on 1970s Florida

19 01 2009

By Kartik Krishnaiyer

Martin Luther King Jr. is one of only four Americans honored by a federal holiday. Some states have other Americans or Confederates to honor. For example, in Virginia Abraham Lincoln is not honored by President’s Day, but Robert E. Lee is honored on Washington/Lee Day. Here in Florida, the birthday of Senator Jefferson Davis, who was the President of the Confederacy is an official state holiday.

MLK Jr. day wasn’t universally accepted as a holiday in all states. Most notably among these was Arizona, who lost the right to host a Super Bowl, endured a boycott (which included countless College Football teams turning down a bid to the prestigious Fiesta Bowl), and lost billions of dollars in conventions and tourism thanks to a reluctance to adopt the holiday.

But Florida didn’t hesitate to adopt the MLK holiday. Coming just two decades after the violence in St. Augustine we chronicled yesterday, the shift in attitude towards civil rights and the King legacy in the Sunshine State was stark. The number of African-American political leaders in the state by the mid-eighties speaks for itself. But King’s real impact was among white politicians whose progressive ideas, which were only possible in a post Civil Rights era, moved Florida forward.

The 1970s were an age of enlightenment in Florida. The election of Pensacola’s Reuben Askew in 1970 changed the state forever. Gone were the reactionary deep south tendencies of Florida towards issues of government spending, race and corruption. In it’s place was Askew, a visionary leader who Harvard University ranked as one of the ten best state executives in the 20th century United States.

Askew didn’t have an easy time dealing with a State Senate that was led by the likes of W.D. Childers, Dempsey Barron, and Jerry Thomas. These conservative Democrats that controlled the process didn’t like Askew and his ideas. But the Governor had the people on his side and by taking his case to the voters and circumventing the conservative, backward thinking Senators he won. The Conservatives ran Thomas and Ben Hill Griffin in an effort to destroy Askew in 1974 but he only became stronger.

In the State Senate two Democrats fought against the conservative leadership. For their courage they were blackballed and were labeled “doghouse democrats.” They were Bob Graham from Miami Lakes, and Buddy MacKay from Ocala. Both emerged as statewide leaders thanks to their courage and their strong ideas for moving Florida forward in the 1970s.

In 1970 Lawton Chiles became a US Senator thanks to a bi-racial coalition of voters and over the next twenty eight years Chiles was among the most inspirational and thoughtful figures Florida had ever produced.

Martin Luther King’s legacy obviously extended to African-American leadership in the state. But in Askew, Graham, MacKay and Chiles, the post-MLK world provided Florida the leadership other Sun Belt states lacked to transform Florida from 1970 to 1998 into a bastion of progressive ideas and policies. Alas, with the election of Jeb Bush in 1998 and the backsliding of Florida’s Legislature towards the tendencies of Dempsey Barron, the progress of the 1970s, 80s and early 90s is being squandered.





Martin Luther King Jr. in St Augustine

18 01 2009

staug-beach2

The oldest city in what is now the United States provided the backdrop for a tense summer in 1964. Florida under the leadership of Governor Ferris Bryant was defiant in the civil rights era.  Bryant who followed the visionary Leroy Collins was a decided step back for the Florida. The Florida Legislature of the early 1960s was also especially hostile to Civil Rights.

In 1963 the NAACP targeted St Augustine as a community which could be used a powerful symbol of segregation in the south. The city  was about to celebrate the 400th anniversary of its birth.

Sit ins began at St Augustine lunch counters in 1963 much as they had in Greensboro and other southern cities a few years earlier. Unlike the relative enlightenment of the upper south, Florida was a Ku Klux Klan  hotbed and violence ensued. Under this pressure of violence, local African Americans began to rethink their strategy and the demonstrations began to die out.

At this point Martin Luther King entered the picture.  St Augustine became the focus of King’s movement for the long hot summer of 1964.After King targeted St Augustine’s beach and downtown for integration, violence from local white citizens once again flared up. The Florida Legislature in its special report issued during the 1965 Legislative session blamed black Muslims from Jacksonville and “northern agitators” for the violence.

However, subsequent investigations have revealed that the local white population had violent elements and that the local political leadership including the St John’s County Sheriff’s office (which was singled out for praise in the Legislative report) were in fact less than even handed. The situation in St Augustine was tense and violence against the civil right demonstrators had a similar galvanizing affect on passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 through the House (Senate passage would come later after a filibuster which included Florida Senators George Smathers and Spessard Holland was broken) that the Selma incidents would a year later on passage of the Voting Right Act of 1965.

A Federal Court sided with the demonstrators after local officials prohibited them from organizing and machining at night. Local law enforcement claimed that they could protect the demonstrators only during the day. After the court order Governor Bryant, stated that he would stand on his constitutional rights as the Governor of Florida and would reject the court order. The state officially in its 1965 report blamed the Court order on lawyers from “New York and Chicago.” Florida may have been on the periphery of the civil rights revolution prior to 1964, but state officials had learned to mimic the talking points of other southern leaders like Ross Barnett, James Patterson and George Wallace.

The beach integration efforts were thwarted by the local police who left several demonstrators in the water to potentially drown. One of the staging grounds for the summer was the Monson Motel, which was open to whites only.  There some white and black civil rights supporters went for a swim together  and the motel’s owner sought to intimidate the swimmers by pouring acid in the pool. Dr King was also arrested for appearing on the motel’s premises. The Monson was recently torn down and replaced by a Hilton. One wonders if this was done to avoid the embarrasment this hotel represented on an otherwise great and historic city, St Augustine.

St Augustine is one of the great historic cities in America. With that backdrop it provided a powerful symbol for Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement. The events of the Summer of 1964 were an embarrassment for the state of Florida. The hostility Dr. King faced and the strength of the local Klan spoke volumes as to the state’s deep south mentality despite being historically very different from the aristocratic plantation driven deep south. Thankfully Dr. King’s efforts were not in vain and today Florida elects three African-Americans to congress and gave its electoral votes to an African-American in the 2008 Presidential Election.

Film from the state archives of St Augustine’s Civil Rights Demonstrations.

TOMORROW: MLK JR’S IMPACT ON FLORIDA POLITICS





Discover Florida: Dames Point

17 01 2009

damespoint

By Kartik Krishnaiyer

For fifteen years after its completion the Dames Point Bridge (officially known as the Napoelon Bonaparte Broward Bridge) was the only cable stayed bridge in the United States with a harp (parallel) stay. The bridge was contructed from 1985 to 1988 and provides a majestic symbol for Jacksonville. The bridge also was the first leg of SR 9A to be completed and connected Arlington and the East side of the river northwards towards Jacksonville International Airport and I-95 north without having to cross the Matthews Bridge and cut through downtown Jacksonville.

Fort Caroline National Memorial is also accesible via the Dames Point Bridge. Fort Caroline was the original French settlement in the present day United States in 1564. It was wiped out by the Spanish a year later as Pedro Menéndez formally founded St Augustine.