19 August 2005

Rod Smith considers raising taxes

While the Rod Smith campaign may state that this title is misleading and mischaracterizes what Senator Rod Smith (D-Gainesville) said in today's St. Petersburg Times article, I would respond with "too bad." What do you think the Republicans are going to say next fall?

Today's St. Petersburg Times devoted 622 words to the Smith campaign, focusing primarily on the campaign's argument that Smith is the most electable next fall. The piece, which was based on an interview between Smith and the St. Petersburg Times Editorial Board, was heavy on rhetoric and light on substance, but it was the last sentence that jumped out at readers. Asked if he would consider raising cigarette taxes, Senator Smith said that he would. Of course, he said that "you'd have to talk about it last." Still, I wouldn't wait for the Republicans to clarify Smith's position for him.

The point of this post is that the Democrats cannot win in Florida if they fail to control their message. Democrats should know that the GOP is only waiting for a mention of taxes, and they have to be smarter than this. (It was only three years ago when this same idea hurt Bill McBride's campaign for governor.)

Of course, I doubt that Smith volunteered his position on cigarette taxes to the editorial board. He was probably only answering a specific question. Still, Smith and the other Democratic candidates need to steal a page from George W.'s playbook. Don't answer the questions you don't like. Just repeat your talking points. Believe it or not, it works.

Smith's cigarette stumble is not a big deal. He is already on record raising cigarette taxes by supporting Senate Bill 2112 in 2004. Fortunately for Smith, the bill was pushed by the GOP, sponsored by Senator Paula Dockery (R-Lakeland) and in the House by Representative Frank Farkas (R-St. Petersburg). If Smith were to slip on taxes, this was definitely the way to go. The Republicans will have a tough time attacking a position that their own party has championed in recent years. (But don't worry. They'll try.)

Nevertheless, Smith and the rest of the Democrats should see this as a wake-up call. Charlie Crist and Tom Gallagher will be tough campaigners, and the Democrats cannot afford to get sloppy.

16 August 2005

FSU Update: Trustee apologizes to the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma

In the wake of embarrassing and offensive comments by some well-known FSU alumni, trustee Richard McFarlain has apologized to the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma for his "hostile and abusive" comments about the Native Americans that fled Florida in the early 1800s.

"I think I just should have shut up," McFarlain said. Of course, McFarlain had more to say last week went he went on the attack over the NCAA's ridiculous ban over the use of American Indians as mascots for major college sports teams.

Senator Jim King (R-Jacksonville) and FSU President T.K. Wetherell, a former Democratic Speaker of the Florida House, have yet to apologize for their despicable comments toward the Oklahoma Seminoles.

Senator King and Speaker Wetherell should be encouraged to apologize so this silly debate can be put behind us and FSU can continue being the Seminoles.

Senator King's email address is king.james.web@flsenate.gov.

Speaker Wetherell's email address is president@mailer.fsu.edu.

15 August 2005

FSU battles the NCAA ... and its own alumni

Last week, the NCAA announced new rules that would no longer allow teams, which use American Indian mascots, nicknames or imagery considered "hostile or abusive", to host NCAA championship events. The NCAA cited 18 specific teams that would be in violation of their new rules, but so far Florida State University is making the most noise over this half-baked plan.

FSU had the momentum to change the rule until some prominent alumni opened their mouths. The school will likely prevail in their fight with the NCAA, but not without suffering a public relations disaster of their own. Unfortunately, a few old Noles couldn't resist the urge to shoot off their mouths and to insult Native Americans in the process.

For the record, I think this whole issue is something about nothing. FSU has been working with the Seminole Tribe of Florida for many years to ensure that use of Chief Osceola is done with dignity. I think it is disgraceful that the NCAA issued their rule without consulting any of the interested parties. FSU and the Seminoles claim that they were not consulted.

The issue that led to the recent fracas was the NCAA's claim that the Seminole Indians of Oklahoma were offended by FSU's use of the tribe. It was later learned that the Oklahoma Seminoles never made any such statement, and the NCAA should have looked stupid yet again. Unfortunately, prominent Floridians beat them to it.

Former Republican Senate President Jim King (R-Jacksonville), who graduated from FSU in 1961 and is perhaps the biggest Nole fan in the Capitol, said that the Oklahoma Seminoles "gave up and went to the reservation" in the early 1800s. Of course, those Seminoles were run off their land and didn't simply leave on their own. King needs a refresher course in American history.

FSU Trustee Richard McFarlain said that the Seminoles from Oklahoma weren't even "real Seminoles." Apparently, McFarlain needs to join King in studying the history of the Seminole Indians.

Then FSU President T.K. Wetherell, former Democratic Speaker of the Florida House, issued the most devastating of the comments. Wetherell said that "maybe the Trail of Tears should have gone farther, I don't know."

Brief History Lesson

First, the Trail of Tears specifically referred to the removal of the Cherokee Indians from their homeland. The men, women, and children who were forced to follow the Trail of Tears endured great suffering, and it is believed that over 4,000 Cherokee Indians, or 25% of the entire tribe, died during this march.

The Seminole Indians of Florida, one of the "Five Civilized Tribes," were also forced to join the other tribes and move west, with most of the five tribes finding homes in Oklahoma and Kansas. In 1835, the Florida Seminoles refused to leave the Sunshine State, and their decision eventually led to the Second Seminole War. During this conflict, the Seminole leader Osceola employed guerilla-style tactics in battling the U.S. Army, by hiding in the Everglades and attacking the unsuspecting Americans. The Americans suffered numerous defeats at the hands of the Seminoles, but Osceola was eventually captured and died in prison. Most Seminoles were then forced to relocate to Oklahoma.

At the end of the day, Florida State University should be allowed to use the Seminoles as their official mascot. All interested parties agree, and the do-gooders from the NCAA should really just mind their own business and keep their political correctness out of Florida.

But the statements of King, McFarlain, and Wetherell must not be forgotten. While the statements clearly were not malicious, they were still racist statements that should not have been made. The people of Florida should not tolerate such conduct from our public officials.

The Seminole Caucus of the Florida Legislature (politicians who graduated from FSU) claims that they will be offering a resolution during the next session condemning the actions of the NCAA. I think they should. But only if they also condemn the hurtful comments of their own colleagues this past weekend.