Published Articles by Doris Weatherford

“The Government that Governs Best Governs Least”

March 20, 2017

That maxim has been attributed variously to Thomas Jefferson, Tom Paine, and other revolutionaries of the American Revolution, as well as to Henry David Thoreau. He lived later, but advocated civil disobedience as a response to the human slavery that was legal in many states. The version of the maxim that I like best, however, is from our Stephen Colbert: “The government that governs best governs least – and by that standard, we have set up a fabulous government in Iraq.”


The opposite of government, of course, is anarchy, which means chaos and lawlessness. The entire history of the world has revolved around finding the proper balance between too little and too much governance, between anarchy and dictatorship. We Americans have done a pretty good job, but then our history is relatively new, and we still have a chance to get it wrong – as in electing a president who is a bully proud of his biases. He and his ideological brothers don’t bother to think very deeply, and as it suits their convenience, they take both ends of the philosophical spectrum between “governing least” and throwing the governmental book at anyone who dissents.


As a sub-plot, we have the long history of conflict between state and federal governments. During and immediately after the American Revolution, our revolutionaries tried “governing least.” I realize that the Articles of Confederation was something you memorized to pass high-school history, but please think about it. The Continental Congress first proposed a confederated government of states in 1776, but it was not ratified until 1781 – and then it didn’t work out. The guys who won the war discovered that governing was really hard, and doing it “least” – without even a real national capital – wasn’t realistic.


Under the Articles of Confederation, states not only refused to fund the federal government, they were printing their own money, empowering their own militias (primarily against Native Americans), and considering travel restrictions between states. The anarchy of having no genuine federal government meant that states even could declare war against each other. That was why we wrote the Constitution in 1789 and elected George Washington as president. We didn’t have a ruler or monarch, something that made us different from every nation in the world at that time, but we also learned the necessity of at least some submission to a central authority.


We’ve been trying to get it right ever since. Ironically, our history has shown that the bigger government is more likely to protect an individual person than the smaller government. This is especially true for women and racial minorities: ever since the Civil War, it has been the federal government that curtailed states’ “rights” to discriminate against some of their citizens. It has been the Congress that passed civil rights acts applying to all states, and the US Supreme Court that said women could purchase birth control pills (striking down laws in Connecticut and Massachusetts) and terminate pregnancies within their own bodies (with cases arising in Georgia and Texas).



All of Which Leads Me To…



Florida is leading up to another debate on this issue, except that in this instance, it is local government vs. state government. The Orlando area elected Aramis Ayala, a black Democrat, as prosecutor last November – and Governor Rick Scott removed her from a case last week. She announced that she would not seek the death penalty for a male suspect who killed a police officer, outraging Scott, who assigned another prosecutor to the trial.


The suspect shot a female police officer and probably killed his ex-girlfriend earlier. Sad though they are, these facts indicate progress for feminism: when I began working for women’s equality forty years ago, there were few policewomen – and those we had didn’t work in homicide. The fact that she was assigned to a domestic violence case also matters, as many such cases were not prosecuted, and many – perhaps most -- crimes against women were ignored.


What bothered the governor, however, was Ayala’s statement that she opposes the death penalty. Public debate that will come on that during the ongoing legislative session doubtless will focus on the endless death penalty arguments – but I’d like to see at least some attention to whether or not a governor can tell a local elected officer how to do her/his job. Voters elected her, and why should someone in Tallahassee overrule that?


Governors, of course, long have legitimately removed local elected officials for malfeasance and/or corruption. Next time you are on Doyle Carleton Drive in downtown Tampa, you can reflect on the fact that he removed the Hillsborough County sheriff from office in the Roaring Twenties. The sheriff really was a bad guy, though, as Tampa was pretty much governed by anarchists then. And apparently people wanted that, as voters rejected the appointed sheriff at the next election. Or maybe, even quite probably, the ballots were miscounted.


But questions persist. In the current Orlando case, the bottom line is whether a governor can overrule another elected official on a question of ideology, not performance. Prosecutor Ayala has not committed a crime, not even a crime of negligence: she simply holds an opinion that differs from the governor -- and he is not her boss. The closest analogy that occurs to me is the US Constitution’s definition of treason. It requires at least two witnesses to an overt act: merely expressing differing opinions is not treasonous. To be sure, various “patriots” over the years have imprisoned dissenters for their ideas, but the men who wrote the Constitution had a greater concern for free speech.


There is no analogy at the federal level for removing another elected official, as presidents can only remove employees of their own executive branch: they cannot, for instance, go into a state and remove its governor. In some states, but not all, voters can remove an elected official when they are disenchanted: Wisconsin citizens recently attempted to recall their Governor Scott Walker. (And why are there so many duplicative names among Republicans? It’s a job trying to keep straight Scott Walker, Rick Scott, Paul Ryan, Rand Paul, etc.)


Anyway, the Ayala case will be interesting. I’ll be watching.



An Apology, As Reality Sneaked Up on Me



I apologize that I wasn’t watching another issue closely enough. Hubby kindly chauffeured me to Palm Beach for a recent speech there. We took State Highway 60 east from Brandon, which we have done dozens of times before. Along the way, though, we espied something entirely new and disturbing: miles and miles of threatening bulldozers and other construction equipment clearly planning to install a huge pipeline in the fragile land where the Everglades begin. It was a Sunday, and they weren’t working – a real blessing considering how overcrowded that two-lane road is.


We stopped at the historic Desert Inn in Yeehaw Junction, and you should, too. It has new ownership, and the fried fish from nearby Lake Okeechobee may have been the best I’ve ever eaten. Concerned about the pipeline’s effect on the lake, we asked the owner. He said that it would transport gas – all the way from Georgia. I asked some environmentalist friends when we got home, and they said that indeed this is the Sabal Pipeline. Apparently the Sierra Club and others have been trying to warn us about this, but I missed it. It certainly hasn’t been at the head of political news, which it should be. Everything, after all, is political.


Again, I apologize for my ignorance. I’m shocked that I didn’t know. When I googled it, it seems that the governments of Alabama, Georgia, and Florida slipped permission for Sabal past us, and the 515-mile pipeline is expected to open in 2021. The websites about it, not surprisingly, are mostly from the viewpoint of Sabal Trail Transmission, LLC, and they emphasize the “natural” in natural gas. Other gases and petroleum from underground, I guess, are artificial. Who do they think they are kidding?


Natural gas will explode and burn just like any other gas. It will leak from pipes and go directly to the Florida Aquifer, which is just a few feet down -- or even inches, given that the pipeline sometimes is only about hundred yards from Lake Okeechobee. Which is, by the way, the second-largest inland lake in the US. If you want to know what can happen when a hurricane hits it, you should read Their Eyes Were Watching God. Its author was Floridian and African-American Zora Neale Hurston; she lived in that area during part of her interesting life. The novel ends with the 1928 hurricane that killed some 2,000 people, when a wall of water rushed from the south shore of Lake Okeechobee.


The nascent pipeline is on the north side – but as those of us who have lived here for a while understand, hurricanes can come from any direction. Corporate slogans don’t fool Mother Nature, and Sabal’s big plastic containers labeled “Eco Bags” don’t fool me. Their full corporate name, which includes the word “trail,” is an insult. Their corporate officers may be long gone, but sooner or later as a natural result, gas -- natural or not -- will be in the aquifer. A disaster will happen. You can take that to Mother Nature’s bank.


Beyond that, the devils in the details: Did we Florida taxpayers make any money when we (presumably) gave our right-of-way to the Georgia-based company? Are plans for restoration of the Kissimmee River still in place, and wouldn’t that be an absolutely contradictory goal? Where is the EPA and the federal government on this? Why have our political reporters not been on the case more than they have? And why do we call ourselves “the sunshine state” when we do almost nothing to support solar energy? All this is a predictable result of electing a virtually all-Republican government composed of anti-science guys, but does that really mean no one cares about Florida’s future?


Finally, let’s consider more place names like Yeehaw Junction. Even though it long has connected two east-west and north-south highways, it’s stayed almost entirely the same in the forty-plus years we’ve traveled there. My only theory is that realtors don’t want to advertise places named “yeehaw”—and therefore we should have more of them. Did you know that Orange County used to be Mosquito County? It’s a thought.



doris@dweatherford.com





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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