Fabiola Santiago

Fabiola Santiago: How ‘exceptional’ is Florida? Let us count the ways

Florida Gov. Rick Scott delivers his state of the state speech on the opening day to a joint session of the legislature on Tuesday, March 3.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott delivers his state of the state speech on the opening day to a joint session of the legislature on Tuesday, March 3.

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the most exceptional state of all?

Floriduh! Floriduh! Floriduh!

How exceptional are we?

“We want every person in Florida to have the opportunity to live the dream of America,” Gov. Rick Scott assures us in his State of the State speech opening the 2015 Florida Legislature session. “I believe we are the best place in the country and the world to make dreams come true. I call this Florida exceptionalism.”

Now that the governor has brought up the issue of vanity, let us count the ways in which we’re not just special, but the most special of all of Mother Earth’s intersecting latitudes and longitudes:

Here, otherwise sanctimonious Republican legislators support gambling and want to expand it, despite their own study’s conclusion that this sort of industry doesn’t enhance communities. But for the big bucks — in campaign contributions, especially — they’re willing to forgo principle and quality of life to welcome a law enforcement nightmare.

Among the 800 bills filed is an all-out effort by the House Republican leader, Dana Young of Tampa, to expand the gaming picture with two mega resort casinos slated for South Florida and four dog tracks that operate slot machines instead of racing dogs.

Good for the greyhounds, terrible for addicts and the communities surrounding the casinos.

“The selling points the sponsor of the bill presents are the same empty promises the casino industry always promotes and never delivers,” says former Beacon Council President Frank R. Nero. “The independent research on the negative impacts of destination casino gambling is vast and quite clear. This industry is not a positive contributor to any local or state economy. Actually quite the opposite is true.”

But we forge ahead with bad legislation in exceptional Florida, where the small-government party even wants to legislate where you tinkle.

Every lawmaker gets to file six bills each session. Miami Republican Frank Artiles has squandered one of his in a desperate bid to regulate bathroom use after the Miami-Dade County Commission wouldn’t entertain his objections and passed an anti-discriminatory ordinance protecting transgender people.

But even more exceptional than his bill is the legislator’s behavior.

A college student from North Carolina visiting Tallahassee claims Artiles punched him in the face at a bar the night before the session’s opening day Tuesday. Two witnesses corroborated the 21-year-old’s story that Artiles was trying to bulldoze his way up to the crowded Clyde’s bar for drinks when he punched the student.

Artiles, 41, denies it, telling the Miami Herald it was all a setup.

A setup for what? Definitely not to kill his tinkle bill, which passed the scrutiny of the House’s Civil Justice Subcommittee because there’s no greater cause to champion than pulling it out of your pants in the right spot.

How’s that for exceptional?

Not as exceptional as La Florida of Ponce de León lore, which was governed by Havana.

With such roots, state legislators cannot pass up foreign policy matters. It’s our God-given geographical right, and so, the first order of state business from the folks representing the Independent Republic of Miami was to object to President Barack Obama’s new Cuba policy of rapprochement with symbolic legislation that expresses their “profound disagreement.”

The world is safer now.

Not to be outdone by that exceptional Miami contingent, the gun-loving North and Central Florida Republican legislators have introduced six separate NRA-friendly bills to push arming people in our schools, colleges and universities. The bills are opposed by every constituency affected — parents, teachers, administrators, police — but our exceptional legislators know better. That’s why they claim NRA membership in their House and Senate profiles along with the prerequisite religious affiliation.

In this exceptional Florida, God and the NRA walk hand in hand.

Still, our carpetbagger governor wants us to be upbeat and to know that we’re all — Republicans and Democrats — equals in our appreciation of the Gunshine State.

“I know you love [Florida] just as much as I do,” Scott said before speaking of funding environmental initiatives and agricultural interests in the same sentence.

Nature lovers and polluters will get to share $3 billion.

When Scott looks into the mirror, what he sees is exceptional. He may be right for once.

Wikipedia defines “exceptionalism” as “the perception that a country, society, institution, movement or time period is ‘exceptional’ (i.e., unusual or extraordinary) in some way and thus does not need to conform to normal rules or general principles.”

All perception and no principles. That certainly qualifies Scott’s Florida for exceptional status.

“God bless America and God bless the exceptional state of Florida,” Scott concludes as he looks into the mirror of the Florida Legislature. “Thank you.”

And so the fairy tale ends.

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