Florida editorial roundup
Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:
The Orlando Sentinel on Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran:
Recently we praised new Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran for pushing through a series of ethics and lobbying reforms to reduce the power of special interests in Tallahassee. Unfortunately, Corcoran also has set his sights on another target: Florida's judiciary.
In a speech last week to the annual conference of Associated Industries of Florida, the speaker fumed about state Supreme Court decisions that overturned legislative actions on workers compensation, redistricting, the death penalty, school vouchers and other issues. Never mind that a majority of the justices concluded these actions violated the state constitution. The speaker told the assembled business leaders, "The enemy are basically seven individuals who meet in private in black robes."
Such direct, personal criticism from one of the Florida's top lawmakers could have a chilling effect on judicial independence, because the courts depend on the Legislature for their annual funding. Just a few years ago, justices had to plead for stopgap funding from lawmakers before the end of the budget year to keep courthouses open around the state.
But Corcoran isn't stopping at a rhetorical assault. His plans include a proposed constitutional amendment that would slap a 12-year term limit on Supreme Court justices and appellate judges. The amendment narrowly passed the House earlier this year but died when wiser heads prevailed in the Senate.
Supporters have insisted the amendment is merely an effort to bring the courts in line with the other two branches of government, the governor and the Legislature, which already are subject to term limits. Granted, a cap of eight years in office makes sense for Florida's powerful chief executive, just as it does for the U.S. president. But Florida's experience with legislative term limits is a losing argument for imposing them on the state's judges.
House and Senate term limits have starved the Legislature of institutional knowledge. They've magnified the power of the unelected and unaccountable groups whose tenure is unlimited in Tallahassee: legislative staff and lobbyists. They've driven ambitious lawmakers to begin focusing on their next jobs long before their time in the Legislature is up. Introducing the same revolving-door mentality to Florida's judiciary would be a huge mistake.
Besides, if regularly purging courts of the most experienced, knowledgeable and dedicated jurists were such a terrific idea, other states would have imposed term limits on their appellate judges. Not one has. In fact, voters in Nevada, Mississippi and Colorado have voted down the idea.
Corcoran's outspoken complaints about the Supreme Court's rulings confirm that the amendment isn't really about consistency; it's about political payback and the desire for courts that will serve as a rubber stamp for the other two branches of government. But the judiciary is compelled to defend the constitution when the Legislature and the governor won't. The Supreme Court's intervention into the redistricting process -- the move that seems to rankle lawmakers most -- came about because the Legislature refused to abide by the ban on partisan gerrymandering that voters added to the constitution in 2010.
Florida's appellate judges and Supreme Court justices are not unaccountable to voters. They're appointed by the governor, but must win approval from a majority of voters to keep their jobs in the election following their appointment and every six years afterward. Unlike federal judges, they don't enjoy lifetime tenure. They must retire by the end of the term in which they turn 70.
Imposing term limits on them is a petty, politically driven and constitutionally corrosive gambit. Corcoran would only overshadow whatever good he's accomplished by pursuing it.
The Tampa Bay Times on solar energy:
Talk about fast. Not a full month after Florida voters rejected a bid by the electric monopolies to stifle rooftop solar expansion, the nation's largest solar panel installer said it is moving into the state's residential market. The decision by SolarCity should give a boost to solar in Florida, and it should send a message to state policymakers that residents want more choices in how they purchase energy.
Lyndon Rive, the company's CEO, said the defeat of the pro-utility Amendment 1 by Florida voters in November reaffirmed the company's resolve to move into the state. The amendment needed 60 percent approval to pass; it garnered the support of 51 percent of voters, falling short despite a $26 million advertising campaign, much of which was underwritten by Florida Power & Light, Duke Energy and Tampa Electric Co.
The amendment would have added the anti-consumer restrictions on solar that already exist in state law into the Florida Constitution. It was designed to confuse voters with a competing measure that would have stoked the market by allowing for the sale of small-scale solar energy. The organizers of that genuine pro-solar effort failed to collect enough signatures to move forward; it likely will return in 2018. But the pro- utility measure marched onto the ballot, as power companies saw the opportunity to take a pre-emptive strike against a pro-solar effort down the road. The campaign was so dishonest -- one insider likened it to "political jiu-jitsu" -- that the state firefighters' union withdrew its endorsement just days before the vote, after "hundreds, if not thousands" of its members complained that the campaign was using scare tactics.
The voters made the right decision, and the announcement that SolarCity will move into Florida should build momentum for solar in the Sunshine State. The California-based company, a subsidiary of Palo Alto electric car maker Tesla Motors, said it would open an operations center in the Orlando area, with plans to expand into other areas of the state. The firm could employ as many as 300 in the state and operate as many as 20 warehouse locations. SolarCity has installed systems for more than 300,000 customers in 27 states, including Florida.
Amendment 1 was a reminder to Floridians that they need to take control of their own consumer interests when it comes to energy policy. With SolarCity's entry into the state, the market will be creating new energy options for consumers just as the costs for solar continue to come down, technological gains make solar a smarter choice and the state fully recognizes the value of diversifying its energy mix. SolarCity's entry also reflects the emerging job market for the solar industry and the opportunities for the state in growing its employment base.
Of course, stopping a solar scam is different from powering up a new industry. Consumers need to keep pressing the state to develop a more friendly energy policy for solar. The rejection of the utility-backed amendment is a clear indication that voters want to move forward with new and cleaner energy options. This vote was a huge defeat for the electric monopolies, the status quo and the existing regulatory process. The challenge now is to build a robust solar market that works for consumers, the power grid and the environment.
The Times-Union on Florida A&M University:
As one of the nation's leading historically black universities, Florida A&M has empowered and educated generations of African-Americans from every walk of life.
But in recent years, Florida A&M's leaders have done a poor job of giving a sense of stability to the university.
There was bitter wrangling that saw some university trustee board members feuding with then-President Elmira Mangum, while Mangum's supporters -- including a large segment of FAMU's student body -- pushed back just as hard in defending her.
The public discord went on for too long.
And it did a great disservice to Florida A&M's many stakeholders, from the more than 9,000 students now attending the university to its sprawling network of alums -- particularly in Jacksonville, which boasts one of FAMU's largest alumni bases in the country.
But in the aftermath of Magnum's negotiated departure from the school, there is a fresh opportunity for FAMU to unify as an academic family.
And the university must seize and capitalize on the moment.
There are good signs that is happening. The university has named Larry Robinson, a renowned chemist and longtime FAMU professor, as its interim president.
That was an encouraging first step. Robinson brings a proven pair of safe hands on the FAMU wheel: He's served as the school's interim president on two previous occasions over the past 10 years.
And while Robinson acted quickly to make some major changes in FAMU's administrative structure -- letting go of three administrators who had been put in place by Mangum -- the interim president has rightly said it's now critical for the school's leadership to focus on assuring stakeholders that there's a measured process in place to move the school forward.
It's an assurance that FAMU's stakeholders deserve to receive -- and one that's well overdue given the internal rancor over the past two years.
Florida A&M continues to enjoy a proud legacy as one of Florida's educational pillars.
To protect that, the university's leadership needs to foster a sense of unity among all those who continue to care and be enriched by the school.
There are promising signs that work is underway.