Myra Smith, Agnes Lightfoot, and Barbara Murphy went to Tallahassee to represent the Democratic Women’s Club of Flagler County. We arrived in the evening of January 26, Sunday, and the daylong conference began early the next day, on Monday morning.
The first speaker, John E. Daley, mayor of Tallahassee, was a terrific speaker, getting us ready for the keynote address.
Deb Butler, NC State Representative, District 18, Democratic Whip, as the keynote speaker, knocked our socks off. She talked about her experience on the floor of the NC House, when the Republicans lied and tricked the Democrats so that they would miss a vote intended to veto the Governor’s budget. The Republicans would not have been able to push the veto through had the Democrats been present. The video of her taking a stand and persisting “I will not yield” went viral, and helped to expose the dirty trick for what it was. She knew she was going to lose, and reminded us that we may be down, but we have to keep fighting. She inspired us to ask ourselves: “What moves you?,” and then urged us to fight for that cause, whether gun control, climate change, freedom from fossil fuel dependence, preventing the relegation of education to the private sector that treats children as revenue streams. Ms. Butler evoked the image of geese flying as a model we could follow. The leader flies at the head of the “V,” until she is exhausted, then drops back so another can fly in the front and carries the lead, and so on.
Next we heard from Barbara DeVane, Florida NOW lobbyist. She advised us that local activism is the most effective, and reminded us that we need to deliver pressure to our representatives while they are home. Most importantly, Ms. DeVane reminded us of the need to focus on February 10, when Speaker Pelosi will introduce HJR 79 (sponsored by Jackie Speier) which is a resolution to remove the deadline for the ERA Amendment. Our job is to educate, motivate, and agitate around this proposal that, if passed, will cause the ERA, now having been passed by 38 states, to become part of our U.S. Constitution, as a matter of law. We need to positively deluge our U.S. Congressional Representative (for most of us, Michael Waltz) with emails, phone calls, and visits to the District Congressperson’s office, to make sure we know exactly where he stands – and he knows where we want him to stand. Ms. DeVane informed us that the 27th amendment, proposed by James Madison, took over 200 years to pass the required number of states, and only became part of the Constitution in 1992. Unfortunately, the ERA contains a deadline, that was extended once already, but has long since passed. So, the idea is, remove the deadline, and voila!, women finally get foundational rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
Ms. DeVane alerted the audience about terrible bills before the Florida legislature, including the new “parental consent” anti-abortion law aimed at removing the right to privacy guaranteed by the Florida Constitution, by a now securely conservative Florida Supreme Court, and another proposed law that would allow parents to veto what is being taught in their children’s schools.
Representative Anika Omphroy, a young legislator District 95, talked to us about how the promise of Amendment 4 remains unfulfilled, with 80% of the 1.4 million returning citizens still without the right to vote. She also pointed out that the “super voting centers” now being proposed by the legislature are another attempt to suppress votes.
Representative Fentrice Driskell, State Rep. District 63, who flipped a seat in the Tampa area in 2018, warned us to eschew “Dem on Dem violence,” giving us a history lesson by reminding us that while white women got the vote in 1920 with the 19th Amendment, black women did not get the vote until 45 years later, with the passage of the Voting Rights Act. She urged us to unite around the positive nonpartisan message that equal rights are human rights.
Shevrin Jones, HD 101, talked to us about gun violence. Karen Woodall, Executive Director of the Florida Peoples Advocacy Center explained the ALICE report, breaking down the numbers to demonstrate the impossible situation many Florida families find themselves in. Ms. Woodall also talked about the $7 billion in tax cuts for corporations that were pushed through at the last minute in 2019. She also mentioned that Florida had to pay $500 million TO corporations because the legislature passed a law that promised reimbursement to corporations due to a loophole reduction at the Federal level – before they had any idea how much it would cost. And to make it worse, thanks to a Constitutional amendment passed in 2018, that requires a 3/5 majority vote to “raise” taxes. So, every time they lower taxes, they can’t simply repeal the law, because that would be raising taxes. Brilliant!
Andrew Spar spoke for the Florida Education Association (FEA), pointing out that Florida has the 4th largest economy in the nation, and ranks 43rd in student funding, and 46th in teacher pay. Unfortunately, the Commissioner of Education is Corcoran, former speaker of the house, and champion of for-profit charter schools, who is backing HB1, an attempt to kill the teacher’s union once and for all, by requiring annual recertification. Follow FEAweb.org for more information.
We heard from the always-inspiring Judy Mount, from Jodi James, and Cynthia Chestnut, the new DWCF legislative chair, among others.
Day two took us to the Capitol, to speak with Senator Travis Hutson’s staff, and to wait, and wait, and wait, to talk to Representative Renner himself… for 3-5 minutes. We ran into Sheriff Staley in the anteroom to Renner’s office, and we had a nice conversation. Unhappily, all of our recommended actions on bills seemed to fall on deaf ears, as Hutson voted exactly the opposite of the way we had asked him to on a preemption bill the very next day. And, of course Hutson voted to advance the horrendous “parental consent” law. We do believe, as was suggested to us, that we need to visit them on a regular basis when they are in their districts. We hope to get a group of women engaged in this activity. However, we hope more strongly that someone will challenge them in the future so we can have someone actually working for, not against, our interests in Tallahassee.
It was “Children’s Week” at the Capitol, and the Rotunda was adorned with student-made mobiles that hung from the third floor all the way down to the first, creating a shimmering, colorful, rain-like effect that was hard to capture in pictures. Coincidentally, as we stood for a picture together on the third floor overlooking the beautiful display, we realized that we had chosen a spot from which hung a mobile made by Flagler County’s very own Bunnell Elementary School!