NewsOur Dumb State Vol. 5
As we’ve chronicled, you, dear Floridian, have suffered more than your share of tough times and outright stupidity these last few years. If it’s not the plummeting housing market, it’s a diaper-clad astronaut driving 18 hours to confront her astronaut boyfriend at Orlando International Airport. If it’s not the 10 percent unemployment rate and a state Legislature that doesn’t have the collective IQ to comprehend anything more intellectually rigorous than tax cuts, it’s the trashy circus Casey Anthony brought to town. If it’s not the fact that we bestowed the Jesus-freak insanity of Anita Bryant on the world in the 1970s, or that we hosted the Elián González debacle, or that we fucked up the 2000 election and subsequently ruined the world, it’s that pill-popping GOP boss Rush Limbaugh calls this state home, or that the Orlando Police Department believes it can pray away inner-city crime, or that our schools consistently rank at the bottom of the nation.
Face it. We have been, and continue to be, the epicenter of idiocy. Also, we’re shaped like a giant penis. And you have put up with it all. Give yourself a little pat on the back. You deserve it.
Meanwhile, we’ll keep on doing what we occasionally do: adding to this compendium of the dipshittery that makes this state so, well, interesting. You could be living in North Dakota. Don’t hear much about North Dakota in the news, now, do you?
So relax, pour yourself a stiff drink and enjoy this latest addition to our ongoing series, Our Dumb State.
THE GAY ADOPTION BAN
You know what goes hand-in-hand with being a dumb state? Bigotry. In Florida, we’ve got that in spades. By wide margins, we voted last November to enshrine anti-gay discrimination in our constitution, even though gay marriage is already illegal in the Sunshine State. But hey, you can’t be too careful. If two ’mos in Key West tie the knot, the whole system collapses. (Has Des Moines been swallowed by a fiery inferno yet? No? Maybe tomorrow.)
But here, we take our bigotry to heretofore-unseen levels of idiocy. For example, last October the state attorney general’s office had to defend its ban on gay adoption – a ban that puts us in the good company of Mississippi as the only two states that expressly forbid gays from adopting children – in a Miami courtroom, and to do so it hired two witnesses: a Southern Baptist preacher who co-founded the right-wing Family Research Council and compares gays to terrorists, and a Kansas State professor who “uses statistics to highlight the truth of Scripture.”
The state’s case had nothing to do with the well-being of the two children that a gay couple sought to adopt. In fact, the state never denied that their living conditions had improved since they’d been in the couple’s foster care. Instead, the state paid these two alleged experts (its only witnesses), George Rekers and Walter Schumm, to argue that gays make bad parents. And of course these scientists were unbiased presenters of scientific data. What’s more scientific than this statement, which comes from Rekers’ 1982 book Growing Up Straight: What Families Should Know About Homosexuality? “When scholars disregard divine law, they deliberately suppress truth and result in foolish and futile speculations.”
Shockingly, the state lost. On Nov. 25, Judge Cindy Lederman struck down the state’s gay adoption ban as unconstitutional. Now this dumb state is spending your tax dollars on an appeal.
Here in our dumb state, we have no concept of what constitutes an “emergency.” In most places, an emergency means just that: an instance in which you need the police or paramedics, right away. In Florida, an “emergency” means that you didn’t get the fat-soaked fried chicken bits you were promised.
In March, a Fort Pierce woman named Latreasa Goodman called 911 three times to report that her local McDonald’s had run out of Chicken McNuggets and the manager wasn’t refunding her money. As she explained to police, “This is an emergency. If I would have known they didn’t have McNuggets, I wouldn’t have given my money, and now [the manager] wants to give me a McDouble, but I don’t want one. This is an emergency.”
Believe it or not – and this being Florida, you probably do – that wasn’t the state’s dumbest use of 911. An Orlando woman in a Walgreens parking lot called 911 to report that her car wouldn’t start, her windows wouldn’t open and she was locked inside her vehicle. Plus, it was getting hot and she wasn’t feeling well. Emergency!
“Are you able to pull the lock up on the door and open the door?” the 911 operator asked.
“I’m trying!” the woman exclaimed. “OK, all right, I’ve got that going.”
“So are you able to get out of the car now?”
“Yes, I’ve got the door open.”
Good for you, lady; unfortunate for the rest of us.
Florida may not have given the world Sarah Palin, but there are whack-jobs aplenty that do hail from here. To wit: Rep. Bill Posey, a Melbourne congressman who earned kudos from the crew that thinks Glenn Beck is too mainstream by introducing a bill that would require presidential candidates to produce their birth certificates.
Never mind that the alleged “controversy” over President Obama’s birth was put to bed during the 2008 presidential campaign, when he produced a certificate of live birth proving he was born in Hawaii in 1961, and the state confirmed that it has his original certificate in its vaults, and bloggers discovered his birth announcement in the Honolulu Advertiser. Most people accepted the obvious. Posey sided with the tinfoil- hat brigade.
You could argue that he represents his Central Florida constituency well. This is, after all, the capital of idiocy.
Speaking of Florida congressmen who never cease to embarrass us, meet Cliff Stearns of Gainesville. Gainesville is, of course, the home base of the University of Florida, which on Jan. 8 was to play for the NCAA football championship. That night, Congress was set to consider a matter of some importance – certifying Obama’s Electoral College victory so he could be inaugurated two weeks later.
Guess which one Stearns thought was more important?
On Jan. 6, Stearns sent House Speaker Nancy Pelosi a letter asking her to change Congress’s schedule so he could go see the football game. Pelosi declined. Fortunately, this country’s halls of power are run by grown-ups, rather than yahoos from Florida.
Our dumb state is finally getting around to banning bestiality, because someone finally figured out that sexing up a horse is kind of icky. An amendment to that bill specified that dog judging contests and “animal husbandry” were still legal.
And here, Miami Democratic Sen. Larcenia Bullard grew confused. “People are taking these animals as their husbands?” she asked, in public. “So that maybe [was] the reason the lady in Connecticut was so upset about that monkey?” Bullard was referring to the case in which a Connecticut woman’s pet chimpanzee attacked a friend and was shot and killed.
Bullard is right at home in the Florida Legislature.
THE MARRIAGE TAX
Fresh off his successful campaign to sync the Florida Constitution with Leviticus, wingnut champion and Orlando lawyer John Stemberger wants to dictate how straight people make life choices, too. He wants to make it harder for you to get married, and harder to get divorced. Because nothing says “conservative” more than inviting state government to dictate how long you spend in premarital counseling.
Under Stemberger’s proposal – which quickly drew amens from plenty of local representatives, including sponsors Scott Plakon and Darren Soto – you’d either have to submit to eight hours of counseling (preferably at a church where you and your straight lifemate could be Jesusified) or pay $100. Already, the state refunds $32.50 of your $93.50 marriage license fee if you go to four hours of premarital counseling. As of this writing, this new tax – and that’s what it is – is winding its way through legislative committees.
That part’s dumb. The next part’s dangerous. Stemberger and his ilk also want to make it more difficult to get divorced, which will surely be welcome news to battered women. There’s no specific bill as of yet, but hey, one intrusion at a time.
There’s a lesson to be learned here: Give these modern-day Pharisees an inch and they’ll try to be your rulers. Of course, this is Florida, so what are the chances of us actually learning anything?
THE CIG TAX
We could spend all day talking about stupidity in the Florida Legislature. Sometimes we do. But this next example pretty much says it all.
In a special session in January, our esteemed representatives faced what would seem to most sane individuals to be an easy choice: Confronted with a gaping budget hole, the state could either hack a half-billion dollars from public schools or raise taxes on cigarettes by $1 per pack, a move that would net roughly $600 million per year. Keep in mind that Florida’s cigarette tax, at 34 cents per pack, is one of the lowest in the country and hasn’t been increased since 1990. Keep in mind also that Florida’s schools are among the worst-funded in the country. Guess which direction our Legislature went?
The good news, if you can call it that, is that when the Legislature came back to Tallahassee in March, the state was still looking at $3.5 billion in red ink, which has apparently made the Republicans rethink their no-new-taxes stance. Still, even in these difficult times, there’s no guarantee a new smoke tax will make it into law.
EXPRESSWAY AUTHORITY AUDACITY
It takes balls to be on the Orlando Orange County Expressway Authority. In other, more sophisticated states, what these jokers did – and what they continue to do – would have gotten them run out of town on a rail. Here we shut up, bend over and take it.
This brouhaha actually started in 2006, when the revelation of an inexplicable six-figure payment to anti-toll mouthpiece Doug Guetzloe spiraled into a grand jury investigation and a whole lot of (accurate) suspicion that the entire enterprise was a cancer that needed to be destroyed. That initial stink ended with Orange County Mayor Rich Crotty taking over the expressway authority board and promising to clean things up. And we believed him, because we’re stupid.
It was only this year, when that grand jury report was finally unsealed Feb. 27 (by the way, what took so long?), that we discovered how deep the depravity went. Turns out, as we pretty much suspected, expressway authority figures were using your tolls as a giant slush fund. They forced – or, um, encouraged – expressway authority contractors to give money to their political patrons (including Crotty, shockingly).
You’d think the expressway authority would respond to this new information with a proper dose of penitence. Instead, a day before the report came out – coincidence! – they voted to raise tolls. Why? Because, the expressway authority explained, they had to, or the whole enterprise would go broke. (Um, whose fault would that be, Mayor Crotty?)
Orange County comptroller Martha Haynie, sometimes the only public official with any sense in this town, called bullshit. After all, she pointed out, if the expressway was so worried about its debt, maybe it could stop building new roads in the hinterlands. This scenario, as she put it, was “a little Chicken Little.”
In other words, horse droppings. That we put up with it says more about us than it does about them.
DON’T BE CRUEL
Dennis Mulder is the mayor of Deltona, and he would like you to stop saying mean things about him.
To hear Mulder tell it, he ran to thwart Deltona’s old-boys network, and the old boys didn’t react well to his victory. Mulder’s critics accused him of being a corrupt pothead, which is, you know, mean and stuff.
Elsewhere mayors would take this kind of talk as the cost of doing business. After all, to run for office is to invite criticism, and not all of it will be fair. Mulder didn’t see it that way. In February, he pushed through a proposal that would force taxpayers to pay for any libel and slander lawsuits he or other public officials pursue against their critics. Think about that for a second.
The goal, Mulder told the Orlando Sentinel, was to put an end to the lies and harassment to which he’d allegedly been subjected. Of course, all Mulder did was prove himself utterly ignorant of libel law and also kind of a self-important, thin-skinned jackass. Two weeks later, after being deluged by complaints from lawyers, the media and anyone with a brain, Mulder reconsidered. Progress!