By Jerry Waxman
It was a hastily cobbled together series of rallies on May 10, throughout the state of Florida in opposition to Governor Rick Scott’s and the veto-proof Legislature’s Machiavellian budget cuts that will adversely affect education, health care, the environment and much needed social programs. Awake the State reported that there were 23 rallies being held in different communities throughout the state, however numbers of attendees were not forthcoming. Individual counties like Volusia and Palm Beach reported that their rallies were great. Orlando’s rally was again held at the Orlando Regional Chamber of Commerce and although the crowds were fewer they were no less enthusiastic than the original rally held on March 8. The difference being that they had six weeks to prepare for the March rally. That difference notwithstanding, the Orlando event attracted some very compelling speakers: state legislators Scott Randolph and Darren Soto, Sue Idtensohn, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Orlando, Linda Kobert, founding partner of Fund Education Now, Ann Hellmuth, President of League of Women Voters Orange County and Tamecka Pierce, President of Organize Now.
Organizers of the event were groups such as Organize Now, Florida New Majority, Working America, members of SEIU and AFSCME. Stephanie Porta, Executive Director of Organize Now said in an interview “Never has Florida’s middle class been more under siege than we were during the 2011 legislative session. Politicians waged a war against Florida voters but they are learning we’ll fight back to protect our communities, our families, our schools and our rights as voters. We’re here to stay, we know what you did last session and we’re not going to take it!” Porta added “Average Floridians are fed up with lawmakers balancing the budget on the backs of hard working Floridians. Our families simply cannot afford the attacks on the middle class in order for politicians to carry water for the big business lobby, namely the Florida Chamber of Commerce. Our legislators are going to continue to hear about it from Florida voters, so get ready to for a long, hot summer of accountability.”
Sheena Rolle of AFSCME hosted the event introducing State Representative Scott Randolph of house district 38. Randolph recently made national headlines by referring to incorporating his wife’s uterus on the Florida House’s floor during one of the several heated debates over abortion legislation. Randolph opened his speech“For the last four months the legislature has been attacking you” going on to explain that that the legislature is entirely under the control of Wall Street and the Chamber of Commerce. He also pointed out that the governor and majority legislative leadership were “disappointed” that they were not able to stop the $2.40 raise in Florida’s minimum wage. He concluded that “They will be back next year to attack you. Let’s not let that happen!”
Rolle next introduced Rep. Darren Soto of Florida’s State House District 49. Soto confirmed what Randolph had said previously and added that the session was not without some minority legislative victories, citing that not all of the abortion bills were passed, and that insurance reform was not passed. Also, the Arizona style immigration law was stopped as well as the attack on Bright Futures. Soto reminded the crowd that these issues will come up again next session. He also expressed his hope the 2012 elections will be the turning point to winning back the state.
The next speaker was Sue Idtentsohn, current CEO of Planned Parenthood Orlando. Idtentsohn had previously been appointed by Governor Lawton Chiles as the State of Florida’s Division Director of International Trade and Economic Development. She also had spent many years in Asia serving as manager of the Management Development Institute of Singapore. “I am here to talk and represent all the women in Florida that got screwed in the state legislature.” She explained that Florida leads the nation in anti-choice legislation. There were eighteen bills up for voting that restrict women’s rights and all but five were defeated. She warned that the next legislative session will be just as bad as the recently finished one and that now more than ever the people need to organize against this.
Linda Kobert, founding partner of Fund Education Now.org, a grassroots organization for parents and other interested people to advocate for Florida’s children and for Florida’s public schools, spoke on behalf of the further funding cuts that Florida will be suffering. She cited possible teacher layoffs in Orange County, talk of a four day school week in Lake County and the possible closing of Longwood Elementary, a 50 year old “A” school in Seminole County. She attacked the merit pay bill as an unfunded mandate. “Who runs a business like that?” she asked. She also spoke out against the FCAT testing saying that high stakes testing benefits no one except the owners of testing companies. She also said that if we want a decent economy that we should invest in the kind of world class education that will attract industries of the future to the state. Fund Education Now.org is a plaintiff in a current lawsuit that claims that the Florida legislature has not fulfilled its constitutional duty to fully fund public education as stated in Article IX, section 1 of the Florida Constitution.
Ann Hellmuth is currently President of the League of Women Voters in Orange County. She enjoyed a 50 plus year career as a journalist covering all manner of events. She was the first woman in the history of the Associated Press to be head of a statewide news gathering operation. Her career took her to the Orlando Sentinel where she retired in 2006 as Deputy Managing Editor. Hellmuth explained that the League of Women Voters is non-partisan and since its founding in 1921 one of its prime functions is to register people to vote. Current legislation, when signed into law will prevent the League from participating in that activity. She called upon the assembled to sign the petition urging the governor not to sign the bill.
Tamecka Pierce, president of Organize Now explained how medically needy programs saved her life. She suffers from Lupus and chronic Kidney disease and at the time was unemployed when her kidneys failed. “Had it not been for Medicaid and the Medically Needy Program I would be dead today” said Pierce. She said that these quality of life issued are important to low income Floridians and seniors.
There were other speakers who spoke on unemployment issues and college costs. Awake the State is increasing middle class awareness and a focused effort is underway to increase participation by average citizens in taking back sensible control of their government. It’s a slow process and the organizers are doing what they must to keep up the enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is contagious and based on the responses so far it’s going to continue to grow until the state is fully wide awake.