Very early on in my Navy stint I signed a petition.
Yeah, I know. But it was the sixties and my generation was going to change the world. Cue Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.
I don’t even remember what we were seeking redress for. I do remember my Come To Jesus meeting with a kindly chief bosuns mate who gently explained that when the Navy wanted my opinion they’d beat it out of me.
Or words to that effect.
Fine, the military isn’t a democracy. But that’s pretty much the same message Gov. Ron DeSantis delivered when he signed legislation making it harder, if not impossible, to get citizen-initiated amendments to the Florida constitution on the ballot.
Memo to Floridians: When we want your opinion we’ll tell your elected representative what it is.
Unless your elected representative is a Democrat, in which case keep your lame opinions to yourself.
So much for our new breath-of-fresh-air chief executive.
Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
Listen, the elected elite in Tallahassee hate it when the peons try to tell them what to do via amendment initiative. And for the most part when that happens they try their best to ignore whatever the mandate might be.
Polluter Pays? Nah, Big Sugar buys too many politicians to have to spend even more money saving the Everglades.
The conservation land and water amendment? They laughed it off.
Let former felons vote? Not unless they pay through the nose first.
Fair districts? Well, the Legislature tried to ignore it but for once the courts insisted.
Which is the real reason for this new move to criminalize the petition gathering process.
The big Florida Republican priority right now is to deliver the state to Donald Trump next year.
That should be easy, except that Trump steps on his own tongue so much that he makes everything harder than it ought to be.
The last thing the party wants to see is Trump’s name on the same ballot as a constitutional amendment to ban assault weapons. That might turn out altogether the wrong sort of voter.
The assault weapons ban has already collected more than 100,000 signatures, but it needs 766,200 valid names to get on the ballot.
“I think it’s very unfortunate that they want to muzzle Florida citizens from conducting democracy and giving us a voice,” Gail Schwartz, chair of the initiative drive, told Florida Phoenix. “It is going to make things harder and it is going to make things more expensive…”
Which is pretty much the point. DeSantis rode into the governor’s office on Trump’s blessing, and now he’s bound to return the favor.
And it’s not just an assault weapons ban that worries the elites. Other petition initiatives hovering over the 2020 ballot propose to raise the minimum wage, expand Medicaid coverage for the poor, open up primary elections to all voters (horrors!) and require background checks for firearms purchases.
The peasants are revolting! Time to crack the whip.
Florida has been under one-party rule for more than 20 years. During that time the reds in power have done everything possible to insulate themselves against demographic shifts that might give the blues some wiggle room. Voter purges? Sure. Voting registration barriers? Why not? Gerrymandering? As long as they could get away with it. And now weaponizing the constitution against the reformers in the cheap seats.
Ain’t democracy wonderful?
“A direct democracy is for other places,” Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa, famously said this past session, “not, namely, the United States or the state of Florida,”
Oh, right, I forgot.
Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Gainesville Sun.