16 April 2005

The Democrats' God problem

God has returned to the Florida Legislature, and the parties have chosen sides. The issue in Tallahassee is again school prayer, with the Republicans for it and most Democrats against. Of course, the debate is over state-mandated prayer versus the right to the freedom of religion. The Democrats are morally on the right side of this issue, but unfortunately they choose to battle religious fundamentalism with extremist secularism instead of responsibly promoting the freedom to pray without government intrusion. Democrats should win this issue, but they probably will not, because they lack the necessary political instincts and continue to campaign in a manner that is radically disconnected from the values of everyday voters.

As reported by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Representative Wilbert "Tee" Holloway (D-Miami Gardens) has sponsored House Bill 355, which would allow student-led prayer at public school events. This is the fourth time that Representative Holloway has sponsored this legislation on behalf of the Republican leadership. Each year Representative Holloway assumes the role of GOP stooge by sponsoring the government prayer bill and by driving a wedge in between the Democratic Party leadership and the party's Black Caucus. Unfortunately, he fails to figure out that he is being used by the Republican Party, i.e., "The Man."

Holloway claims to be sponsoring this bill for young black people. He argues that the problems in the black community would be cured if only the students in his district were required by the government to pray. I wish Holloway was right. Then problems such as high crime rates, low home ownership, high unemployment, and low education standards would obviously all be solved if the students were made to say a government-mandated prayer each morning. It's wishful thinking, but somewhat naive.

Unfortunately, the bill is fatally flawed. Under the legislation, a student must be randomly selected to lead his or her classmates in a prayer of their choice. In order to not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, a teacher may at no time interfere with the student's prayer. Seems to make sense when the student is leading the class in reciting the Lord's Prayer or scripture in its original Hebrew; however, the bill fails to address those incidents when a remote possibility occurs. What if a student decides to lead the class in a prayer to Satan, claiming the Church of Satan as his or her "religion?" Under the Holloway bill, the teacher would be prohibited from interfering and our children would be forced to listen to a satanic prayer. Even worse, what if the student claims to be a fundamental Muslim and preaches "death to America" before a classroom and pushes al Qaeda propaganda on our children? Again, the teacher would be powerless to stop the prayer and our children would be forced to listen to this garbage. As one can see, the potential harm of this bill greatly outweighs the benefits. Unfortunately, Representative Holloway's bill opens the door to the possibility that our public school students may have their minds poisoned by some bad apples in our schools. And the worst part about it is that Holloway and the Republicans in the Legislature would give those evil doers additional legal protection when they try to hurt our children.

Of course, we can expect level-headed Democrats to save the day, right? Wrong! Democrats believe that they can win the religious debate by emphasizing the separation of church and state and by claiming that we must keep religion out of our schools. Unfortunately, these Democrats continue to bury their heads in the sand and simply refuse to acknowledge the fact that you must battle bad religion with good religion, not with no religion.

Reverend Jim Wallis has been a leading voice of faith in the media, calling for the Democrats to wake up and realize that they are rapidly losing the faith voters that turn out during elections with great frequency. The liberal preacher Wallis, who edits the magazine Sojourners, lays down the arguments that Democrats should be making. His publications go much further than those points which could be made regarding Holloway's government prayer bill; however, he makes one clear point. Democrats will never win over religious voters if they continue to run away from the debate, claiming separation of church and state as their justification. They must engage the Republicans, and Democrats like Holloway, by stating that they are people of faith who believe in responsibly bringing God into our lives. Unfortunately, Florida Democrats refuse to make those arguments, so they continue to lose any debate relating to faith.

Holloway's bill will surely pass the Florida House, because the members there do what they are told and refuse to think for themselves. If the House leadership wants a bill to pass, it will pass. The Florida Senate, however, may prevent this legislation from becoming law, just as they did two years ago. By realizing that allowing Satanists and terrorists into our public schools is not the proper way to honor God, Florida Senators were wise to stop this bad bill in 2003. Let's just hope that the state's upper chamber exercises the same wisdom this year.

14 April 2005

Is another mass exodus at hand?

For forty years, Moses led the Children of Israel as they wandered the desert in search of the Promised Land. And for over forty years, Jewish voters have been solid supporters of the Democratic Party. Just as Moses' leadership of his people came to an end, will the dominance of the Democratic Party in the Jewish community also be reaching its limit? A recent study by the Solomon Project on behalf of the National Jewish Democratic Council shows that there was in fact some movement by Jewish voters and that cracks have formed in this once solid support. However, the Democrats are not the Egyptians, so an exodus is immediately unlikely. Still, the Democratic Party has reason for alarm and must do more to reach out to religious voters, regardless of denomination or faith.

Ronald Brownstein from the Los Angeles Times reported that the poll results are largely good news for the Democrats, but show signs of opportunity for the Republican Party. While initial polls by Edison/Mitofsky National Election Pool showed 74% of Jewish voters choosing Senator John Kerry while only 25% chose President George W. Bush, a new study by the Solomon Project shows better results for the Democrats. The new poll shows 77% of Jewish voters choosing Kerry with 22% choosing Bush. This was somewhat surprising, considering that many felt that Bush's rhetoric regarding Israel during the campaign may shift the tide.

Still, Democrats have reason to worry, because new trends did in fact emerge. While Jewish women continued to strongly support the Democratic candidate, President Bush made significant inroads with Jewish men. The most alarming figure was that Bush received greater than a third of the vote from Jewish men under the age of 30. Another trend, which is somewhat predictable, is that those Jewish voters who attend synagogue weekly split evenly between the two candidates. This finding reflects a greater problem for Democrats who continue to lose voters who regularly attend services and/or consider themselves religious.

Strippers for Smith

The campaign for Florida Governor is already heading in the direction that the news media wants - the race for sleaze. No longer do journalists find interest in publishing stories about issues that affect the lives of everyday Floridians. That doesn't get ratings nor does it sell newspapers. So get ready for tabloid reporting on the race to replace our state's chief executive.

Today, the Gainesville Sun reported that Senator Rod Smith received $4,500.00 in campaign contributions from strip clubs. Nine separate checks of $500 each, the maximum amount that may be contributed under state law, were made by Jerry Sullivan, owner of numerous gentlemen's clubs around the state including Cafe Risque. Sullivan's Cafe Risque, which is located off the I-75 in Micanopy, is widely known because of its prevocative "We Bare All" billboards.

Smith was not aware of the contributions, and he did not solicit them. His campaign promptly returned the checks, because the senator "wasn't comfortable." According to Smith's daughter, who handles the campaign's finances, "We sent the checks right back."

The Smith issue is really a non-issue, but it shows how we should expect the news media to cover this campaign. It is destined to be a mega sleaze-fest. Considering that among those expected to run for governor, we have two candidates who are rumored to be closet homosexuals and another who is rumored to be a serial adulterer, the people of Florida should get ready for election reporting lacking of issues and overflowing with sleaze.

13 April 2005

Democrats slide even deeper into irrelevance

I must admit ... I made a mistake in my post from yesterday. I stated that there are three ways to judge a state party and its chairman - winning elections, registering voters and message. I obviously overlooked perhaps the most important factor in guaging the success or failure of a political party - the amount of money raised. According to the , the Florida Democratic Party and Chairman Scott Maddox are failing miserably in this area as well.

Today the Miami Herald reported that the state Republican Party raised more than 10 times the amount of money that was raised by the Florida Democratic Party since the beginning of 2005. According to state records, the GOP raised a total of $3,051,553.51, while the Democratic Party raised only $272,947.63. You don't have to be a mathematician to realize that this is bad.

Democrats should ask themselves some serious questions. Why has Maddox been so inept in raising money for the state party? Is it because he is simply unable to raise the money? Or is it because the chairman is purposely not raising money so he can hit party donors for himself when he declares his candidacy for governor?

These are questions that need to be asked. Now, let's see if Florida Dems have to courage to answer them.

12 April 2005

Florida Dems continue slide into irrelevance

In 2002, grassroots leaders of the Florida Democratic Party, whose average age is probably in the mid-70s, decided that dumping the state chairman, Bob Poe, and installing the young mayor of Tallahassee, Scott Maddox, into the top position would instantly turn the party around. This just goes to show that even the greatest generation can get it wrong.

To say that the Democratic Party is about to go the way of the Whig Party is probably an overreaction; however, state Dems should be seriously concerned about the state of their party. The 2004 election was an absolute disaster for the Florida Democratic Party, but if you listen to them, they act like nothing serious occurred. Let's recap.

Still if you hear the state party talk, you would think that the Florida Democratic Party has never been in better shape. Chairman Maddox talks about how he has obtained a new office, how he has purchased new computers, and how he has increased the party beauracracy to fifteen paid employees.

Unfortunately, a party's success should be judged in three ways - winning elections, registering voters, and message. We just saw Maddox's legacy in the elections department. What about registered voters?

According to the St. Petersburg Times, the Democratic Party has lagged in voter registration since last November. The Republicans have signed up 74,000 additional voters while the Democrats have only added 55,000 voters. The Democrats' numbers even fell behind those who registered as Independents or third party, which totaled 64,000 new voters. Democrats still outnumber Republicans in Florida, but the margin has been narrowing at an alarming rate.

As for message, the silence from the Florida Democratic Party has been deafening. Since the legislative session has begun, Chairman Maddox and the party has hardly uttered a word. In response to the Terri Schiavo case - NOTHING. In response to the Republican voucher bill - NOTHING. In response to the GOP's censorship at public universities bill - NOTHING. In response to the first drafts of the state budget by the Florida Senate and House - NOTHING. In response to Mel Martinez's despicable Schiavo memo - NOTHING. (However, it is important to note that Bob Poe, the man that Maddox replaced, was quoted as fighting for the party's principles.)

Florida Democrats should be concerned about the direction of their party. While Maddox has been too busy packing up his office and preparing for his run for governor, the party continues to languish. Last month, Maddox announced that he would be resigning as chairman of the Florida Democratic Party, but that the resignation would not take effect until after the Legislation Session, which is scheduled to conclude on May 6th. This, of course, gives Maddox the opportunity to use his position throughout session to try to snag some free headlines. Meanwhile, the Florida Dems are stuck with a lame duck chairman during a contentious session, when they most need someone who is willing to fight.

If Democrats were smart, and that's a big "if", they would demand that Maddox resign immediately so the party could begin its reemergence instead of simply being a vehicle for its chairman's own personal agenda. This would appear to be common sense, but again, that's a big "if".

11 April 2005

Ros-Lehtinen compares gay issue to civil rights, equal rights movements

In a stunning rebuke to the GOP leadership in Washington, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has announced her support for repealing the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which would allows gays to serve in the military. She compared this issue to when President Harry Truman integrated the armed services, allowing African Americans to serve our country, and to when women were first allowed in the military.

Ros-Lehtinen, who serves on the Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations, has broken with her party on this issue, because she says that the current policy has failed. "We've tried the policy. I don't think it works. And we've spent a lot of money enforcing it," declared the congresswoman. "We investigate people. Bring them up on charges. Basically wreck their lives." The United States Government Accountability Office estimates that the enforcement of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which was enacted in 1993, has cost American taxpayers approximately $200 million.

Additionally, Ros-Lehtinen points out that the policy has failed to keep U.S. servicemen and women from serving alongside homosexual soldiers. Most of the countries that are our allies overseas allow gays to serve in their armed forces. Great Britain, perhaps our greatest ally in the war on terror, is a prime example. According to Ros-Lehtinen, "England is actively recruiting gay men and women to join their armed forces."

Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen sees this struggle as a moral one and compares the issue to the civil rights and equal rights movements from many years ago. She says that the purpose of the policy is "ludicrous" and says, "It's the same kind of talk we heard about women serving in the military and African Americans."

Although Ros-Lehtinen has joined the cause, the bill repealing the "don't ask, don't tell" policy is probably headed toward failure. Congressman Duncan Hunter, who chairs the House Armed Services Committee which must approve the bill, has a very anti-gay voting record. Additionally, disgraced Majority Leader Tom DeLay also holds great animosity toward homosexuals, stating in 1998 "The other side has been systematically, over time, desensitizing the American people into thinking that this is an acceptable lifestyle. It is not acceptable. It is wrong. It is dangerous. It destroys families. It destroys people."

10 April 2005

Mel Martinez: A Disgrace for Florida

Following the initial reports that the infamous memo regarding Terri Schiavo originated from the office of U.S. Senator Mel Martinez (R-Florida), the hits just keep coming for the junior senator from the Sunshine State. This weekend, Florida's newspapers took turns taking shots at the disgraced senator and rightfully so. In case you missed, here is what the senator did.

During the Terri Schiavo saga last month, the U.S. Congress sought to intervene in the private dispute between Terri's husband and her parents. As the U.S. Senate debated the issue, a memo was circulated among the members that spelled out how the GOP could use Terri Schiavo's situation for their own political gain. The memo was unsigned and mentioned how the issue could be harmful to Democrats, especially Florida's own Senator Bill Nelson, who is up for reelection in 2006. Republican senators denied any knowledge of the memo's origin, and conservative blogs manufactured a conspiracy theory that the memo was actually created by Democrats in order to harm Republicans. (Just like conservatives to make themselves the victims in every scenario.) Unfortunately for right-wing activists, the source of this despicable memo was discovered on Wednesday evening. Republican freshman, Senator Mel Martinez admitted that a senior member of his staff, Brian H. Darling, drafted the document, but Martinez denied any involvement in the creation of the political document. Later, it was reported that Martinez himself actually circulated the memo on the floor of the United States Senate.

Florida's papers voiced their disappointment in Martinez's conduct. The Palm Beach Post refused to believe Martinez's claim that he was not involved in the politics of the Schiavo issue, stating that "[i]t is beyond ludicrous to think that the politics of this issue began and ended with one staffer in a first-term senator's office." The conservative Orlando Sentinel concluded that Martinez's "reputation, which he worked hard to establish, has been damaged." And the ultra-conservative Tampa Tribune landed the most devastating blows to Martinez's character and integrity. "Martinez may have had personal and religious reasons for supporting the Schiavo legislation, but it's hard to believe he did not also consider - and talk to his staff about - the political implications of his actions. ... It's bad enough that the memo politicized the Schiavo case. It's terrible that it was put in writing. That it specifically targeted Bill Nelson is not a healthy sign for Florida." The Tribune continued, "Martinez apologized to Nelson's chief of staff. He should apologize to Nelson personally. He owes Floridians an apology, too, for allowing so public a wedge to be driven between our two senators."

Unfortunately for Floridians who expect their elected representatives to possess some degree of integrity, the latest conduct by Mel Martinez is just another incident in a long list of other similarly immoral acts. Martinez is trying to convince us that he wasn't involved in the memo scandal, but Floridians know better. As the Tampa Tribune reported, "Martinez expects the citizens of this state to believe he knew nothing of the memo's contents. Why should we? He has shown a breathtaking pattern of disingenuousness." Last year during the Republican primary for his U.S. Senate seat, Martinez's campaign unleashed an astonishingly harsh attack on Bill McCollum, stating that the former congressman was the "new darling of the homosexual extremists." This accusation was based on the congressman's previous support for hate crimes legislation. Martinez said that the statement was made by his staff without his knowledge, and he was forced to retract his attack on McCollum after Governor Jeb Bush and state Republicans condemned his attacks. During the general election, Martinez continued with his dirty tricks by falsely accusing his Democratic opponent, Betty Castor, of being a terrorist sympathizer. Then Martinez again hid behind his staff when a press release from his campaign accused law enforcement officers of being "armed thugs" for seizing Elian Gonzalez from the Miami home of his relatives. Martinez stated that the remark was "inappropriate" and that "[i]t was put out by someone in the office." Now, history repeats itself. University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato said it best: "Mel Martinez seems to like delegating to the people working for him, and then distances himself from their dirty tricks. As a senator ... you are still responsible."

Floridians wish that they could believe Mel Martinez, but honestly they can't. As an anonymous GOP strategist pointed out, "It's just so familiar. It's never his fault." If this were an isolated incident, perhaps we could believe him. If it were the second time, we would remain suspect, but possibly give him the benefit of the doubt. But the fact that this is the third time in less than a year that Mel Martinez has blamed his staff for reprehensible behavior emanating from his office should lead us to believe that the senator is not being honest with us. Florida deserves better than Mel Martinez. Unfortunately, we're stuck with this immoral politician for the rest of the decade.