Fred Grimm

Fred Grimm: For South Florida to break free, we’ll just have to forget Disney

Oh, please. Not Orlando.

What's the point of breaking away from that other Florida if we're still stuck with Harry Potter and that ubiquitous mouse? Not to mention Gatorland, Holy Land and Volcano Island Mini Golf.

Sadly, South Miami’s resolution demanding that those of us dwelling in the lower extremity of the Florida peninsula be allowed to decouple ourselves from the region dominated by the NRA and Sons of the Confederacy suggested taking Mickey’s joint with us. The measure, which passed 3-2, would form the great state of South Florida from Brevard, Polk, Hillsborough, Pinellas and Orange counties and everything below.

South Miami commissioners acted out of frustration with the anti-science climate deniers who dominate Tallahassee, 500 miles to the north. The crackers don’t much care that we’re up to our ears, or at least to our ankles, in the effects of global warming. South Miami’s resolution didn’t mention our cultural disparities, suggesting instead that this might have to do with our topographical differences: “North Florida is approximately 120 feet above sea level while the average elevation of South Florida is less than 50 feet with a very large portion of South Florida averaging less than 15 feet above sea level.”

“It’s very apparent that the attitude of the northern part of the state is that they would just love to saw the state in half and just let us float off into the Caribbean,” Mayor Philip Stoddard told the Orlando Sentinel. “They’ve made that abundantly clear every possible opportunity and I would love to give them the opportunity to do that.”

Back in 2008, the Broward County towns of North Lauderdale and Margate passed their own secessionist resolutions. However, their proposals would have limited the newest, 51st state to Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. “We believe South Florida has many different issues than those in North and Central Florida and yet we all get put into the same frying pan together,” North Lauderdale Mayor Jack Brady said at the time.

That particular strain of break-away sentiment was mostly about finances. South Florida politicians noticed that we were contributing a lot more to state government than we were getting back in services or infrastructure improvements. Those neo-Confederate chicken pluckers up north were taking our money and ignoring our needs while shoving their Old South cultural values down our collectives throat. North Lauderdale Commissioner Rich Moyle, talking to state legislators, summed up local sentiment. “Last year you beat our cities up, and this year you are stealing our lunch money.”

South Miami’s rather more ambitious 2014 secessionist decree notes that the 24 southern Florida counties account for 69 percent of the state revenue collections. Except that’s exactly why politicians in the northern reaches of Florida would never embrace the split suggested by South Miami. Thanks to gerrymandered legislative districts and chronic disunity within South Florida’s legislative delegation, the status quo is just dandy for folks in the northern counties. They get our money. They control the spending. And they pass whatever gun laws or voter repression measures or chop-down-trees-and-put-up-billboard bills that strike their fancy.

It’s not just folks at the bottom of the peninsula suffering from cultural dissociation with greater Florida. Panhandle residents have been complaining about their forced marriage to the rest of Florida since the 1840s, when locals wanted to be annexed by Alabama. But through the first 60 years of the 20th century, the rural northern counties utterly ran the show. The state Legislature was controlled by the infamous “Pork Chop Gang” — conservative, states’ rights, segregationists elected from the state’s backwaters. Thanks to wildly undemocratic formulas for electing legislators, the 12.3 percent of the population living in rural Florida could elect the majority in the state Senate, while 14.3 percent controlled the House of Representatives.

Apparently, they hold tight to tradition up in Tallahassee.

Maybe northern Florida would consider giving up a few heathen, immigrant-and-Yankee infested counties on the southeastern coast, what with our weird accents and strange art and our tiresome insistence that climate change is a sure-enough existential threat.

But they'd never give up Gator Golf (featuring Gatorzilla) or the WhirlyDome. If we're going to have any hope of busting free, we'll just have to let ’em keep Orlando.

A previous version of this column incorrectly identified Jack Brady as the mayor of Margate. Brady has been the mayor of North Lauderdale since 2004.

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