Every weekend, we take a look at the news stories shaping the conversations in Florida’s business, policy and political worlds. Here’s this weekend’s Capitolist wrap-up, which we call “The Wrap.”
Even Clinton-nominated judges like free speech
Regular readers of this column shouldn’t be surprised by the pair of preliminary injunctions issued this week that stopped a pair of new Florida laws signed by Governor Ron DeSantis before they could take effect. One injunction was issued by U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle, a Bill Clinton nominee, the other by U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor, nominated to the bench by then-President Donald Trump.
I’ve long predicted the rulings were coming. I’m not a lawyer or judge, but I know a few of the smarter ones and talk to them regularly, and I’ve written extensively on both bills since before DeSantis signed either of them into law. To be clear, these are just preliminary injunctions, still subject to a full hearing and the appeals process, but judges don’t issue injunctions unless the plaintiffs have a pretty strong case.
It turns out most federal judges, and lawyers in general, appreciate the constitutional right to free speech. And thank goodness. Both injunctions issued this week sought to preserve those rights. Hinkle’s ruling blocked implementation of the so-called “Big Tech” crackdown that DeSantis pushed for. Windsor’s ruling centered on blocking a law that would have restricted campaign contributions to just $3,000 per donor for petition drives, severely limiting the ability of some groups to raise the money needed to get issues on the ballot.
Telling people what they can and can’t publish online is an obvious violation of the right to free speech. DeSantis wanted to flip the constitution on its head and use it to force the owners of Facebook and Twitter play by Florida’s rules, meaning those platforms wouldn’t be allowed to tell their users what they can and can’t publish on the internet. The trouble is, Facebook and Twitter are private corporations with many of the same free speech rights as you and I, meaning DeSantis and the state of Florida have zero authority to tell Facebook, or Twitter, or anyone else, what they must and must not allow people to publish on their website.
Personally, I don’t want my Facebook and Twitter feeds to be filled with images and videos of violence, gore, fatal accidents, and sexual content. I appreciate some of the community standards those platforms have in place. Like DeSantis, I’m frustrated with the heavy-handed way they seem to enforce standards around political content, but that’s their prerogative to do so.
Don’t like what Facebook and Twitter are doing? Stop using their sites. But don’t demand DeSantis abuse the power of government to bully a private individual or company into doing what a third party wants. That’s far too heavy-handed, and it’s not a conservative principle anyway.
Then there’s the campaign finance injunction, the second legal setback DeSantis and his fellow Republicans got slapped with this week. Campaign contributions have long been held by courts as a form of protected speech that cannot be arbitrarily infringed.
DeSantis and his allies went too far when they tried to limit petition drive fundraising to the arbitrary figure of $3,000 per donor. Their hearts were in the right place, because their goal was to make it harder to get constitutional amendment questions on the ballot. Florida voters have faced an onslaught of complicated ballot questions that carry serious consequences for the entire state. There is a reason we don’t have direct democracy in America, and why we rely on our legislators to study complex issues and make decisions on our behalf. As we pointed out last week, the effort to raise the bar was noble, the execution was clumsy.
There’s no denying that Governor DeSantis is currently viewed as the frontrunner for the 2024 presidential race, but that’s still years away. In the meantime, he’s forging a record as a populist, the same type of leader who will forsake conservative consistency and trade it for political expedience. Sticking it to “Big Tech,” even if they deserve it, shouldn’t be pursued at the expense of sacrificing cherished constitutional rights.
Personally, I hope DeSantis sails through his 2022 reelection campaign for governor and has a cakewalk to the White House in 2024. But I’m also hoping he abandons his recent swerve into populism and governs like the rock-solid constitutional conservative he once claimed to be.
Enviro-activist reporter Craig Pittman has definitely inhaled too much of something
I confess, Craig Pittman never did anything to me personally. I just can’t help it when the Florida Phoenix writer pecks out another of his over-the-top columns about “pollution-belching cars” and “inhaling algae bloom poison.”
Reading his column this past week was a real slog. First, we had to wade through a long and painful setup about his dating struggles that he then used as a segue into Florida’s air quality (which by any standard, is pretty good). From there, we learn that, despite our state’s air being cleaner than ever, it’s not clean enough to pass Pittman’s personal sniff test. After all, he claims, his wife could literally smell the red tide lurking somewhere off the coast.
Oh, and it’s all Ron DeSantis’s fault.
By the end of the column, it’s pretty clear that Pittman just wants us all to keep wearing our COVID-19 masks, but not to protect us from coronavirus. Instead, he argues, there’s a host of other “toxins” we’re breathing in all the time, which he blames on our current governor:
DeSantis has been ignoring this slower-moving disaster. He hasn’t spoken a word to the folks who breathe in the poisons from the algae blooms he failed to fix. He hasn’t held a roundtable in their area or even mentioned in public what’s been happening there.
I highlight that phrase because it’s just so ridiculous. DeSantis has been in office for exactly two and half years. It is well-documented that headline-grabbing algae blooms have been happening in Florida even before Pittman was using an IBM Selectric typewriter to peck out his enviro-drivel. Newspaper headlines were talking about algae blooms and red tide in Florida more than 117 years ago (check out the Madison, Florida New Enterprise, December 8, 1904), long before developers and Disney and all the rest showed up to wreck Pittman’s personal paradise.
What’s particularly infuriating is how Pittman tries to scare his readers with his version of “science.” In perhaps the worst example, he suggests that algae blooms in Florida are responsible for a “cluster” of fatal liver disease cases in four counties that are particularly prone to algae blooms:
For instance, an Ohio University study in 2017 linked blue-green algae toxins with a cluster of fatal liver disease cases in Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River, and Okeechobee counties.
I’ve been around politics and the media long enough to be skeptical of anyone claiming one thing is “linked” to another and that we should be concerned about the “link.” So instead of taking Pittman’s word for it, let’s just ask the study author himself:
“We didn’t find a causal relationship. We can’t say that exposure to blooms causes liver disease,” said study co-author Jiyoung Lee, an OSU professor of environmental health sciences. “That’s a hypothesis for another study to look at.” (Source: TC Palm)
Unfortunately, that didn’t calm Pittman’s nerves. But he should consider the fact that this so-called “cluster” of “algae-toxin-linked liver disease” couldn’t possibly have been larger than the total number of liver disease deaths in those counties, including cirrhosis and other causes. In 2009, for example, one of the most recent years included in the “study,” the counties cited in Pittman’s story averaged exactly 10.15 deaths per 100,000 people due to any kind of liver disease, while the overall state average was 10.5 deaths per 100,000 people.
Maybe there’s a “cluster” in there somewhere, but it ain’t a big one.
The bottom line is that the TC Palm, a like-minded environmentalist rag which Pittman relies on heavily for his own “research,” literally cherry-picked specific tidbits in the Ohio State study and attempted to frame the findings in the most frightening light possible. Thankfully, Lee, one of the study co-authors, acknowledged their fears were a bit of a stretch.
But that didn’t stop Pittman. He goes on to cite other TC Palm scare pieces, including one about spores found on nasal swabs that has him so scared he claims he’s “twitching just thinking about it.”
It’s not clear exactly what Pittman’s been sniffing, but whatever it is, it appears to cause acute paranoia and irrational fear.