Well, the Florida legislative started Tuesday, and so far, no roseate spoonbills have suffocated due to untold amounts of Big Sugar money clogging the waterways where they feast.
As with every year, the inaugural session day kicked off in Tallahassee with a "state of the state" address, in which Governor Rick Scott praised bootstraps of every sort as well as the presidential election victory of one Donald J. Trump, who has likely never owned a set of bootstraps.
Much of Scott's address centered on economic development—namely all of the tax incentives the state offers to large companies so that they'll relocate to Florida and create wonderful, high-paying jobs bursting with benefits (j/k! Not really!).
And as he touted a state budget that gives away millions in tax cuts to "job creators," while cutting funding for environmental protection and hospital visits for the poor, Scott—who did not grow up wealthy and even lived in public housing at one point—did not appear to recognize the irony in the following:
"I know what it's like to be poor. I have lived in poverty. I watched my parents struggle to put food on the table. When most kids were playing Little League or riding bikes, I was working. I had no other choice but to start working when I turned seven. I went from delivering papers to opening a small business so my mom could have a job to running the nation's largest health care company that employed hundreds of thousands of individuals. I've had to worry about making pay roll and I've signed the front of pay checks," he said.
Hmmm. One wonders if he would have tried to drug test his own parents when they applied for public housing.
Scott acknowledged that the next several weeks of session will be challenging, given the rift between himself and some lawmakers over Visit Florida and and Enterprise Florida, both of which have come under fire due to the latter's Trumpian per diem perks and the former's million-dollar paycheck to some rando who tweeted about the beach.
Scott supports the two organizations, but top Republican lawmakers want them gone. At least the per diem one; Visit Florida may stay, minus the rando.
"Over the coming weeks, we will have many debates over bills and policies, but what unites us will always be stronger than what divides us, and what unites us is the resiliency of our great state. After every challenge, every heartbreak and every tragedy, Florida comes back stronger and better any time we are knocked down," Scott said.
Democrats from high-ranking legislators and activists from a whole slew of progressive and progressive-ish causes reacted to the opening of session with concern and, in some cases, scorn.
House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz, a longtime State Rep. from Tampa, said in a speech afterward that Scott was spouting "failed solutions" that undermine education, the environment and healthcare. She must live in some bizarro universe where some kids make it though elementary school without knowing how to write their names, the poor are S.O.L. if they go to the E.R. and canals in South Florida sport the hue of the Irish countryside every time there's a big storm.
And about those jobs...
"The Governor, and Republican leadership in this state, want to create low-paying jobs that benefit the largest corporations because lower wages means higher profits for those at the top of the economic ladder," she said. "There’s no disputing the facts: Florida continues to lag behind the nation in median income for our families. For too many, a savings account is just a fantasy when you’re struggling to pay the rent and a trip to the doctor seems like a luxury you can’t afford. That must change."
Bettering public education—not gutting it—is the real way to attract better jobs here, she said; people with kids want to move somewhere with consistently good schools and good schools tend to churn out kiddos equipped with qualities that make them good employees—like critical thinking skills and the ability to write one's name. To improve public schools, she said, you might want to start with respecting Florida's teachers, in part by maybe not paying them $10,000 below the national average. Or busting their unions. Or creating an environment in which teachers spend a good part of their salaries on food for the students because some of these kids haven't eaten all weekend and don't know when they will eat next (note: this really happens).
Then, of course, there's climate change, which the governor doesn't seem to want to acknowledge.
"Unlike the governor, I actually believe that it is imperative that we confront manmade climate change and sea level rise that is imperiling our state," Cruz said. "We cannot create jobs if our state is literally underwater. You would think the “jobs” governor would see this as a priority, but instead he banned the use of the words climate change."
Closer to home, a group of activists—all with a different pet issue and good lord there are many—came together in downtown Tampa's Lykes Gaslight Park to voice their displeasure with the Governor's and the GOP-led legislature's agenda, which may include further loosening gun laws, restricting women's access to healthcare and stripping cities of their power.
“We're here because we love this state. Because our governor's priorities do not represent the working class people and most Floridians," said Tim Heberlein, who was there on behalf of Organize Florida. "Instead of smart business investments in our community's trade jobs, Governor Scott and the legislature are surrendering tax dollars and undermining our economic potential. The budget, aside from being an economic document, is a set of priorities, priorities as a state. And instead of addressing critical needs in education, in health care, the environment, in infrastructure, our leadership in Tallahassee has decided to give more of the same.”
Rev. Russell Meyer, who is outspoken on many social justice issues, said he was disgusted by the amount of money in the budget allocated for carrying out the death penalty in the state, and that it's time to use that money elsewhere.
“We know how to give people life without parole and we could save $300 million just by doing that immediately," he said. "We could take that $300 million and put it into the kinds of programs that intervene in people's lives early on, before they become so traumatized by life they end up becoming actors who commit murders for a variety of reasons.”
The Sierra Club's Kent Bailey, meanwhile, decried water quality issues the state is ignoring, like the above-referenced "toxic guacamole" that clogs the southeast and southwest coasts because Scott and others refuse to confront the Lake Okeechobee water releases, which some would say be mitigated if the state bought up U.S. sugar land south of the lake.
Immigration rights activist Ana Lamb called for an end to state level bills punishing sanctuary cities, something Trump is already trying to do at the federal level for equally baldly-faced political reasons.
“We need to remind them that this is a federal issue. This is not a state issue,” she said. “These measures will undermine public safety, our economy and the very principles...that define us as Americans."