Published Articles by Doris Weatherford

The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far From the Tree

February 6, 2017

This is another of many maxims that are arguable, but the meaning is clear: apples, nuts, and other such don’t fall far from their source; and if allowed to sprout and grow, they will be the same as the parent tree. Humans are more complicated and don’t necessarily replicate their sources – but given all the factors of both genetic inheritance and the influence of years of exposure to parental beliefs and behavior, the probably is that a child will be similar to mom and dad.

This also seems to be true of political families. Congresswoman Kathy Castor is in the same stellar mold as her mother, Betty, and Gwen Graham is the same moderate Democrat as was her father, former governor Bob. We don’t have a lot of evidence yet on women because so few have been elected, compared with men. But I think you will agree that young Jamie Grant is akin to his father John Grant, one of the first Republicans elected to office locally. There are others, including Democrats Mark and Sam Gibbons and Republicans Chris Hart and his son, also Chris. Most voters take family reputations into consideration when they make decisions.

Which brings me to Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch – and the fact that his surname rang a bell with very few people, not even my well-informed Hubby. It did for me because his mother, Anne Gorsuch, was one of the first women to embarrass us other women. This may seem irrelevant now, but back when I was young, every feminist crossed her fingers that other women in the public eye would do a good job. Women in high places were so rare that we counted on each other to scale the heights honorably and prove that we, too, could be leaders. Men (and far too many other women) held a standard for near-perfection for us, and if one woman messed up, it hurt us all. This forced identification with others who happened to look like you is a phenomenon that men never experience, at least not white men.

A Lake Afire

Female appointees to federal office were rare in the early 1980s, especially with Republican presidents. I thus became aware of Anne Gorsuch when President Ronald Reagan named her head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Just so that you know that my thoughts on the EPA have been vetted by qualified editors, I’m going to quote from my work for Congressional Quarterly Press, Women in American Politics: History and Milestones.

“The Environmental Protection Agency was created in 1970, during the administration of Republican President Richard Nixon, when the public was outraged by the fact that petroleum pollution on Ohio’s Cuyahoga River was so bad that, at the point where the river enters Lake Erie, the water literally caught on fire. The EPA thus was eleven years old when in May of 1981, President Reagan appointed Anne Gorsuch, an attorney and Colorado legislator, as its first female chief. Neither she nor Reagan, however, shared the goals of most environmentalists, and she soon ran into trouble with Congress.

“ On December 16, 1982, the full House voted 205 to 105 to cite her for contempt – something that never before had been done at that level of office. She was following White House orders when she refused to release records on the EPA’s management of the $1.6 billion ‘Superfund’ for hazardous waste cleanup. The House sought to check on the use of that funding. In February, the Reagan administration diverted attention from the EPA chief – whose name changed to Anne Gorsuch Burford with marriage that month – by firing Rita Lavalle, the head of EPA’s solid waste division. Lavelle was dismissed after news reports revealed that she harassed EPA employees for doing their jobs, while accepting gifts from industries she was charged with regulating. Similar negative reports on Gorsuch did not end, however, and she, too, was forced to resign in March 1983.”

A little more family background: Neil was her son by her first husband, David Gorsuch. They divorced in 1982, and as you might have noticed with the dates above, she didn’t let any grass grow under her feet before marrying Bob Burford in January 1983. Not that I think there should be a waiting period between divorce and remarriage – but it’s hard to see that chronology and not conclude that she was setting something less than good example for her teenage children.

That may not be relevant, but this question is: What if Hillary had appointed a person with this family history? Don’t you think the connection would be all over the news? I expect that someone would be starting an investigation into what happened with that Superfund money, calling for a belated indictment, and shouting “Lock her up.” But then again, a billion or two is small change to the Trumps of the world – unless it’s small change they somehow can connect to the Clintons. Ultimately, though, I’m not too worried. I’m sorry to speak ill of the dead, but I’d much rather take my chances with Neil Gorsuch than with Anton Scalia. We survived that, and we will survive this. There are more important priorities, two of which lie ahead.

Protecting Our Planet

So it was a Republican president who created the EPA, and now we have a freshman Republican congressman from Florida who has filed a bill to abolish it. That would be Matt Gaetz, son of former Florida Senate President Don Gaetz. It’s ironic that Matt was born in 1982, the year that Anne Gorsuch was showing her contempt for Congress. The EPA already was twelve years old when the kid was born, and what he knows about environmental history probably can fit in a thimble. He’s too young to remember the fire on Lake Erie, and the environment around his Pensacola Bay home has been protected not only by the EPA, but also by other federal entities there with strict standards for preventing pollution, including the US Navy and the Air Force.

So it may be time for a reminder of what serious pollution problems we had prior to the EPA. Smog in Los Angeles literally was deadly, as too many cars built without any exhaust purification equipment burned gasoline laden with lead and other lethal chemicals. Companies all over America dumped waste into water, making it unsafe to drink. Here in Florida, I remember driving miles out of my way to avoid Jacksonville, where the smell from paper plants made me sick to my stomach. Even when we lived in Massachusetts, which has a history of rulemaking back to colonial days, it was routine to see pollutants in both streams and sea. In the boggy area where we lived, appropriately named Marshfield, I remember white bubbles from detergents – and dead marine life because of that.

Detergent manufacturers eventually changed their formulas because of letters from angry housewives such as me. The same happened all across the industrial scene in the 1970s, as the public insisted that the EPA do its job. But – and here’s the rub -- do you think Detroit would have installed fuel- efficient systems without prodding from the EPA? Do you think petroleum companies would have refined a purer product out of their own altruism? Of course not, and that’s understandable. If you are GM, you can’t raise your costs unless Ford does the same. If you are Exxon, you can’t afford to refine your refineries if Mobil doesn’t have to do the same. Capitalism depends on our Great Parent in Washington imposing the same rules on all the children – and that means agencies to enforce the rules and keep the playground fair.

Actually, I don’t think that even Matt Gaetz truly believes we can do without such policing of ourselves. I found it ironic that his federal website features a sugar sand beach with sea oats flourishing in what clearly is a protected environment. He must know that is what brings people and their dollars to the counties around Pensacola that he represents. Americans have grown up since the days when states such as Louisiana made their beaches unlivable, and we Floridians have a right to expect more thoughtfulness from our representatives. I doubt if he actually believes Congress will pass his bill. He’s just framing himself to look good with the conservatives – not conservationists -- who elected him. He’s trusting that hypocrisy once again will prevail.

And Similarly, with DOE

Congress created the Department of Education (DOE) in 1979, during the administration of Democratic President Jimmy Carter. Republicans made a campaign issue of it in the 1980 election, vowing to abolish the department – but when Ronald Reagan won, no such thing happened. Nor did it happen in the future, even when Republicans won the White House and majorities in Congress. DOE’s first head was a woman, Shirley Hufstedler, but she had only brief tenure, because of course, she had to resign when Carter lost his re-election. Despite women’s prominence in the field of education, no other woman held the office until 2005.

President George W. Bush appointed Margaret Spellings that year. A Texan, Spellings was close to the Bush family. Her credentials were slim, as she held only a bachelor’s degree in political science and never had taught. That lack of experience soon showed with her “No Child Left Behind” policy. Despite its benign name, it soon became controversial: Parents, teachers, and local school boards objected to its mandates, especially the amount of testing that children had to undergo to justify the “merit pay” that teachers got, or didn’t get, depending on the kids’ test results. In higher education, too, Spellings sparked criticism for allowing banks to profit excessively from student loans guaranteed by DOE. When Democrats won the 2008 election, not surprisingly, she left government to begin an educational consulting business based in Washington.

Now we will have a similar DOE chief in Betsy DeVos – but even worse, I think, because her inherited fortune is from the cult-like, pyramid-scheme Amway Corporation. Again, she never has taught, nor even attended a public school. She’s just memorized the catechism that anything private is better than anything public, and of course, that private enterprisers have a right to profit -- at taxpayer expense, and without accountability. What are we thinking?

Doris Weatherford writes a weekly column for La Gaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper. With pages in Spanish, Italian, and English, it has been published in Tampa since 1922.


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