Tourists should get to vote on Florida’s Amendment 1

Where’s a good, ol’ fashioned voter fraud when you need one? Let’s let the tourists vote in Florida.

Especially this November on Amendment 1, which would pony up big chunks of already collected tax dollars to buy, manage, improve and preserve Florida land. It only seems fair that tourists should get to help decide how best to pay for the land and water they come to visit.

I mean, they do come to Florida for the dream, right? Not for the paved over shopping centers? OK, so the shopping centers are a draw, too. Same with Key West’s daily Duval Crawl. One does have to have something to do in between exploring the Everglades, fishing the flats or paddling the kayak.

Florida’s all about the water, sun and sand and when one strips away the rhetoric, we’ve pretty much paved over the good stuff, filled in the swamps and dirtied up the edges. Add in a dozen inches of sea level rise and there’s not a lot of dreamy beachfront left.

We did all that out of ignorance — who knew back then it was environmental suicide to allow concrete parking lots and highrises to replace those stinky, alligator-filled swamps? We continued out of greed and need.

From the 1950s when those Lucy-and-Ricky trailer pullers camped out in Florida’s backwaters (my grandparents were among them), Florida’s been a magnet for folks following the sun. And, we catered to them with resorts, entertainment and glitzy destinations. Mosquito plagued campsites might be all the rage with eco-campers, but they’re not going to attract a lot of loose-spending, second home owning folks or summer vacationers with antsy kids.

That’s why tourists and snowbirds should be able to vote on Amendment 1. (P.S.: Those second home-owning snowbirds already paid big bucks for their document stamps when they bought their house. Florida loves its doc stamps; great revenue source.)

It’s kinda this great circle of life. Tourists love Florida’s sunny, sandy, watery dream. They flock here to enjoy it, preferably with air conditioning, good restaurants and paved, go-fast roads. All that concrete and energy put more nails in the coffin of the fragile Florida environment, but it sure does enhance the revenue stream.

If we lose the green space, we’re going to lose the greenbacks. Hence, we better darn well save the environment we’ve got left and undo what we’ve already plundered.

Without an expensive poll to back me up, I’m willing to venture that tourists would support Amendment 1. And, since I really don’t advocate voter fraud (you didn’t think I was serious, did you?), it’s up to Florida voters to do the right thing.

Florida needs Amendment 1 to ensure that 33 percent of the already collected document stamps is dedicated to keeping Florida green and wet. This is not a new tax; it’s a hammer that smacks the legislature anytime its grubby fingers decide to move those tax dollars elsewhere. The money is already being collected. Amendment 1 says use the money to fund the Land Acquisition Trust Fund.

Pretty much everyone except the Florida Chamber of Commerce and a handful of political types are saying they’ll vote “yes” on Amendment 1. Even though many of us have to hold our noses at needing a constitutional amendment to make the legislature do the right thing, we’re voting “yes.”





Gay marriage in Key West: Time to book the venue

Probably not time to order the cake or get those wedding attire alterations done, but if you’re a-hankering for a gussied up Key West wedding, you’d better book the venue.

On Thursday, 16th District Circuit Court Judge Luis Garcia pulled the first thread that will unravel the Florida straight jacket prohibiting marriage equality. Garcia overturned the state’s 2008 constitutional ban on same-sex marriages. Despite what likely will be months of stonewalling appeals by state Attorney General Pam Biondi, Garcia’s decision is the precursor for similar decisions to be handed down around the state.

The wedding bells are inevitable, which is why you better book that Key West venue now. Yeah, you can do the nuptials on Smathers Beach or South Beach pretty much anytime. You can stop by the clerk’s office. Heck, you could ask me. In Florida, notaries can perform the ceremony and I’ve got my seal.

If you’re thinking romantic and myriad attendants, though, time’s a-wasting. Those exclusive venues go fast.

Garcia’s decision is going to be most excellent for Key West’s economy. The island’s decades-long libertarian (little “l;” not caps) history of live and let live and its powerful local gay and lesbian communities have made Key West a safe, accommodating and supportive destination for same sex couples — whether for a week, a month or a lifetime.

Key West is a straight wedding mecca, and it doesn’t take much of an imaginative leap to know there’s not going to be much better than a same-sex wedding celebration in Key West. Ka-ching for everything from wedding planners and upscale clothing retailers to sunset cruises, bars and restaurants. The allure of a Key West wedding — gay and straight — is simply too good to pass up.

Garcia did not, of course, tailor his ruling because of the economics. His ruling was, simply, the right thing to do and he explained himself in this excerpt from his written decision:

“This court is aware that the majority of voters oppose same-sex marriage, but it is our country’s proud history to protect the rights of the individual, the rights of the unpopular and the rights of the powerless, even at the cost of offending the majority. … the Constitution protects all of its citizens from governmental interference with those rights. All laws passed whether by the legislature or by popular support must pass the scrutiny of the United States Constitution; to do otherwise diminishes the Constitution to just a historical piece of paper.”

Garcia said weddings should begin in Key West on Tuesday, giving the clerk’s office time to prepare for long lines. That’s not going to happen next week because Biondi has already made her appeal. Whether it’s Tuesday or the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, the clerk’s office will be handing out marriage licenses.

Monroe County, home to Key West, did not support Florida’s 2008 state Constitutional amendment. No real surprise there, and it’s fitting that the first ruling overturning that decision came because two Key West men asked for a marriage license. After being together for 11 years, Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones figured a wedding ring was appropriate. And, their 11-year-partnership sure seems more stable than Biondi’s three marriages.

But, I digress to politics and that’s not at all what Garcia’s ruling is about. Garcia — and dozens of state court judges around the country — understand what the U.S. Supreme Court meant when it issued a similar decision on a federal level. The Supremes left the state decisions to the states, and those state court judges are following suit.

Garcia ensured that in Monroe County, in Key West, and eventually throughout Florida, the right things are getting done.

Linda Grist Cunningham is owner and editor of KeyWestWatch Media, a project management company in Key West. She is a veteran journalist with more than 40 years in the print and digital media industry.




Gay marriage: It will happen in Key West. And soon.

One of our phone conversations before the aneurysm burst and John died barely past his fiftieth birthday went like this:

Me: Well, we always said we’d know we were old when Chorus Line returned as a Broadway revival.

John: Yeah, the previews are great. Want me to book three tickets for October? You, Ed and me?

Me: Do it. But why not four? Doesn’t Dick want to go?

John: He hates Chorus Line. He’ll meet us for dinner.

Me: Good deal. See you then. Send me the bill. By the way, did you ever get that power of attorney and your will done? I mean, you and Dick need to make sure you’re legally protected. Just in case.

John: Yeah, yeah. You’re right. I’ll get it done.

He didn’t; he died just weeks before Chorus Line. We went to New York and Dick used John’s ticket to a show he hated. He sat between Ed and me. We cried and sang along and held hands. We went to dinner after and Dick told us. Because he and John failed to create a legal partnership contract, John’s estate reverted to his family. There was nothing left for Dick except what the family might choose to share — and that was proving to be, well, not generous.

John and Dick could be a stage-show-worthy, dysfunctional husband and wife. Bickering and snuggling, sharing and caring. Years of making each other better than they’d have been alone. I’d known John since high school. We fast forwarded together through college, careers and his coming out as AIDS became a daily headline.

We careened through our week-long “jubilee,” a Key West-La Te Da-sunset-cruise celebration of turning 50 and proving we still “got it.” We exchanged panicked messages as the World Trade Center Towers collapsed just down the island from his condo. Dick spread John’s ashes over the Dry Tortugas.

I loved that Dick made John’s eyes sparkle. A comfortable as old shoes married couple, except they weren’t. And a decade ago, even a domestic partnership in urbane New York City was little more than an oh-so-aware cocktail conversation.

John and Dick could get married today in New York. Not in Florida, not today, and not ever if Florida Attorney General Pam Biondi has her way. She intends to fight marriage equality every step of the way.

But Florida has its own marriage equality warriors. Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones, two Key West residents denied a marriage license in Monroe County, took their lawsuit before Chief Monroe County Circuit Court Judge Luis Garcia this week. Garcia said he would issue a ruling shortly.

In less than 15 years, marriage equality has morphed from a not-in-my-lifetime cocktail conversation into a reality as state after state recognizes what John and Dick — and gay couples throughout history — always knew. We are like you. We are you.

John would have been delighted. How about a Key West wedding to celebrate our 65th?

Abortion protest etiquette 101: Assault women and ram that car through the window

If you think anti-abortion activists swarming around clinics are sweet, helpful Good Samaritans, you’ve sniffed a snoot-full of cockamamie pixie dust.

Or you’re swooning over the perfectly coiffed spokesmen (and, why is it they are almost always men?) whose carefully modulated tones and messages reassure that protestors are simple caring folks handing out pamphlets and alternative wisdom. What a crock. Believe that and you’ve never driven past an active clinic protest.

Which is likely a safe bet with this week’s 9-0 decision from the U.S. Supreme Court. The court told Massachusetts that its 35-foot buffer zone between protestors and the clinic door was unconstitutional, an infringement of protestors’ First Amendment rights. Said decision was, of course, written and handed down inside SCOTUS’ own 24,696 square foot buffer zone, which they created back in 2012 because they didn’t want the court-protesting riffraff getting too close.

I am all for First Amendment rights and abortion is not my personal choice, but having said both those things, I’ve got to go with “what where they thinking”?

Buffer zones for highly confrontational demonstrations are effective crowd-management tools. Keep the Kluckers and the anti-Klan folks apart and let them yell obscenities across the neutral zones. Ditto war protestors. And, environmental activists and anti-nukkers. Squabbling 10-year-olds on the playground come to mind, too. Keep the combatants far enough apart and, well, most likely no one gets hurt.

The justices said Massachusetts could tame over-zealous abortion protestors with other laws on its books, but it would have to allow protestors open access to the clinic pathways. And, folks, that means a return to some mighty scary comings and goings.

The least of which will include text-book verbal assault: Signs waving across your walk way. Aggressive men (again with the man thing) shouldering close enough to (almost) touch while spewing lovely, life-affirming things like “murderer,” “whore” and “baby killer.” And, for sure, we’ll be seeing the sincerely dedicated chaining themselves to cars parked across the sidewalk or ramming said car through the clinic window.

I am old enough to remember back alley abortions and terrified young women with no where to turn and condemnation on all sides. I am old enough to remember scrounging up cash for a friend who disappeared in the night to an undisclosed location. Almost 50 years later and we are once again saying it’s OK to terrify women with no alternatives. And, don’t hand me the platitudes about adoption and support for single mothers. If any of it were true, abortion protestors would be lining up to be adoptive parents and financial supporters of the pregnant mothers.

The Supreme Court says this is a First Amendment thing. I say it’s about mandating one more restriction on the way to making all abortions illegal once again.

But, OK, let’s stick with First Amendment. Prove it. Open the mall and get rid of your own buffer zone. Take down the barricades erected around federal buildings across the country to keep out the terrorists.

Which reminds me. Note to Massachusetts et al: Re-brand that buffer zone to be a homeland security measure to keep out the terrorists. And, note to Florida: What with our new Stand-Your-Ground rules that allow for a warning shot, perhaps we could all be packing heat around the clinics.





Flood insurance: Can we afford to live on the sand?

Remember that childhood story, The Three Little Pigs, where the wolf huffed and puffed and blew away the houses built of sand and sticks?

It’s something of an allegory for those of us who’ve chosen to live and work on river banks, lake shores and seaside dunes. Ah, waterfront property. Two words that evoke daydreams and pump thousands of market value dollars into even a modest bungalow on the Jersey Shore, in the Keys, beside Lake Michigan or along the mighty Mississippi.

And, then along comes the big bad wolf. Think Hurricane Sandy or Katrina. Think Storm Surge Wilma in Key West in 2005. Pity old Henry Flagler whose railroad connected Key West to the mainland and fell apart forever in the 1935 hurricane.

Ought we allow any development in flood plains? Probably not. There’s not a lick of sense in building multistory high rises on a sand dune. Miami, Chicago and New York City come to mind, not to mention the bungalows of New Orleans and Key West. Even less sense in rebuilding it. But that dog done left the yard.

We are water-facing people and we pave over, build on top of and next to watersheds and flood plains. We plant a house and follow up with businesses to support it and entertain us. We look askance at the sprawl along the Outer Banks of North Carolina — and promptly rent a vacation home on the beach in September.

No one has the stomach for restoring the U.S. flood plains to pre-1492. It’s just not going to happen, so we best be exploring alternatives. For now, unfortunately, what we’re stuck with is federally subsidized flood insurance — and it’s broke.

In 2012, the U.S. Congress approved the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act, which was supposed to raise flood insurance rates high enough to replenish the National Flood Insurance Program. The federal government wanted out of the business of subsidizing flood insurance.

Then came the big “oops.” Oops, we had no idea how economically devastating those increases would be on home owners and businesses. So, after months of political wrangling, on March 21, President Barack Obama signed a relief bill that mitigates some of the rate increases built into Biggert-Waters.

Home owners who actually live in their flood plain homes will see their rates increase, but not at the staggering levels called for in Biggert-Waters. Instead of going up 25 percent per year for(almost)ever, they’ll increase a maximum of 18 percent annually.

Second home owners, businesses, houses of worship, not-for-profits and others, such as condos and rentals, remain on the 25-percent so-called glide path to full value premiums.

No matter how one computes it, if one has a mortgage on a property in a flood plain that requires insurance, the bills are headed up. Flood insurance premiums can climb from a few hundred to tens of thousands annually.

As they should, say the critics of federally subsidized insurance and many environmentalists. Build one’s house or business on sand? Next to water that big winds whip into monsters? Well, why should the rest of us pay for your folly?

(See previous paragraphs about the dog that left the yard for the answer).

Subsidized federal insurance is part of the solution. With last week’s relief bill, there are opportunities to find solutions that can protect the economic engines that line our shores, protect the home owner’s investment, while requiring equitable “skin in the game,” and protect the fragile environment.

But, if Obamacare dissonance becomes the script for national flood policies, we’re in for some very unpleasant political theater.

Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of KeyWestWatch Media, a project management company. She lives in Key West (in house only a few feet about sea level and she pays for flood insurance even though it’s not required.)




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