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Context Florida: Our special guest Clay Jenkinson on “Restoring the American republic, beginning in Tallahassee”

Jenkinson-outside The Village Square in Tallahassee hosted humanities scholar Clay Jenkinson on October 15th for a live audience taping of the nationally syndicated show The Thomas Jefferson Hour. To learn more about our program and listen to an audio of the program CLICK HERE. To look at pictures of the program CLICK HERE. The below piece by Mr. Jenkinson ran in ” Context Florida and the print edition of the Tallahassee Democrat.

As the 21st century finds its rhythm, and the 2016 presidential contest begins to take up most of our public space, it seems clear to me that we have two political parties in the United States, but they are both thoroughly Hamiltonian.We have what might be called the “greater Hamiltonian Party” and the “lesser Hamiltonian party.” The obscene dominance of money, political action committees, lobbyists, fundraisers, and unrestrained attack ads has essentially disenfranchised the vast majority of American citizens.

In a world where there is no longer any real accountability, our political discourse has spiraled down into the gutter. A citizen from Jupiter, or any rational American, forced to watch nothing but Fox and MSNBC 24 hours per day, would soon despair of the American experiment.

What is to be done?

My view is that we need a Jeffersonian party or (better yet) a Jeffersonian movement in America. Jefferson believed that a republic could not survive without a high level of civility. In his first inaugural address, after a hotly contested election, Jefferson wrote two passages that every American should stop to consider.

First he said, “Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists.”

In other words, Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner, there are more things about which you agree than disagree. Stop exaggerating your differences – to raise money from your most virulent supporters, to appease the most extreme elements in your caucus, to erect a pedestal of righteousness in your name.

Jefferson’s second passage is even more important. “Let us,” he wrote, “restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection without which liberty and even life itself are but dreary things.”

Think about what Jefferson is saying here. The ideal of a republic is social “harmony and affection.” We live in the freest country in history, on what Jefferson called a “wide and fruitful land” with “room enough for our descendants to the thousandth and thousandth generation.” We have every reason to rejoice, almost no reason to lament.

Who would not agree that the rancorous partisanship and political paralysis of the past dozen years have made our public life (the res-publica, as the Romans put it) dreary, tedious, dispiriting, degrading, demoralizing, and exceedingly frustrating?

National renewal begins with a new commitment to civility. The style of our national debates should be serious, at times pointed, but always respectful and civil. The whole spirit of the Enlightenment can be summed up in a statement attributed to the French philosopher Voltaire:

“Madam, I disagree with what you say, but I shall defend to the death your right to say it.

We need to bring down the temperature of our national debates. We need to listen more carefully to each other. We need to try to understand not only what the opposition is saying, but the set of American principles that underlie what they say. We need to refine our debates so that they begin again to be evidence-based, rational, sensible, and helpful. Demagoguery is telling people what you think they want to hear even if you know what you are saying could never be instituted in law.

Demagoguery is playing on the fears, the darker energies, the prejudices, and the uncivil desires of the people. Demagoguery is deliberately saying things that you know actually degrade the possibility of true resolution of our problems. By those definitions, the United States in 2015 is awash in demagoguery.

Jefferson believed we would only be a republic if we had a well-educated and well-informed public – a nation of people who could see beyond narrow self-interest to the health and happiness of the entire commonwealth. Jefferson famously said that in our system the will of the majority ought always to prevail, but “that will, to be rightful, must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression.”

Here’s what we desperately need. More civil public discourse. A willingness to compromise. The ability to see the virtue of the opposition, and to realize that they feel passionately about what is good for America. A willingness to read – books, articles, websites, the classics, the Founding Fathers – and to inform ourselves before trotting out the usual talking points (from Rush or Rachel or Sean or Glenn).

We need more Village Square events. I’m so excited to be coming to Tallahassee in the persona of the third U.S. president, Thomas Jefferson. I do the work that I do, portraying Jefferson (and other historical characters) across the country, and playing Jefferson 52 weeks per year on the Thomas Jefferson Hour, because I believe something vital is missing at the core of American life, and that Jefferson’s view of republican democracy is the answer to what has gone wrong in American life.

Not everything about Thomas Jefferson is admirable, but his understanding of how a republic works is as important today as it was when he first penned these thoughts two centuries ago.

If I can play a small role in restoring Jeffersonian values to our national discourse, I will say, to use one of Jefferson’s allusions, like the character in the Bible, nunc dimittis, now you may dismiss me, for my work is done.

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Clay S. Jenkinson is a humanities scholar, Rhodes Scholar, author and social commentator. He has lectured about and portrayed Thomas Jefferson in 49 states over a period of 15 years, before U.S. Supreme Court justices, presidents, 18 state legislatures, and countless public, corporate, student and television audiences. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

The Village Square will host Jenkinson for a special live audience taping of the The Thomas Jefferson Hour at 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday at Goodwood Museum & Gardens. “Founding Ideals: A Conversation with President Thomas Jefferson” is a fundraiser for The Village Square. You may purchase tickets by clicking here. Questions? Email christine@tothevillagesquare.org or call 850-590-6646.



Leadership Florida: Leadership Florida honors The Village Square with the Florida Impact Award

LF logo

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact:
Wendy Walker
Leadership Florida
850-521-1220 ext 103
wwalker@leadershipflorida.org

Leadership Florida® honors The Village Square
with the Florida Impact Award

Tallahassee, Fla. — On June 14, at its annual meeting in St. Petersburg, Leadership Florida presented the The Village Square Tallahassee with its 2015 Florida Impact Award, recognizing the organization’s efforts to bring together those with opposing viewpoints by using civil, respectful, fact-based discourse.

Leadership Florida established the Florida Impact Award to recognize a business or non-profit organization that has created a body of work whose impact is currently transforming the future of its region and has the potential to impact Florida as a whole. It was created to promote a heightened sense of appreciation for the possibilities available when Floridians work together as a single statewide community.

The Village Square was founded by Tallahassee leaders with differing political affiliations, but united in the belief that education and civil discourse on topics of public policy among our diverse citizenry is vitally important, particularly in a society that has become increasingly polarized. In a non-partisan fashion, The Village Square convenes discussions on matters of local, state and national importance, which create a myriad of opportunities for constructive conversations that build understanding and trust among those with disparate views.

The Village Square idea of differing perspectives leading to united goals is growing throughout the state and beyond. Already, it has “franchised” its model by establishing a Village Square in the Florida cities of St. Petersburg, Fort Lauderdale, as well as the out of state cities of Sacramento, Kansas City and Salt Lake City.

Leadership Florida is proud to honor The Village Square as its 2015 Florida Impact Award winner.

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About Leadership Florida
For thirty-four years, Leadership Florida has developed a reputation as a builder of a stronger, diverse statewide sense of community. A respected non-partisan convener of committed individuals, Leadership Florida enhances the knowledge and leadership abilities of Florida’s leaders through educational programs and by encouraging collaborative work for the betterment of our state. Leadership Florida provides Floridians essential information and a meaningful forum for their opinions, and creates opportunities for shared experiences that are inviting, inspiring and of lasting value. Leadership Florida is a federally registered trademark.

Find Leadership Florida online at leadershipflorida.org

Village Square receives Leadership Florida award



Jeb on Hillary. Two old families feeling a little new right about now?

Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush shared a stage in September. Jeb Bush awarded Clinton the 2013 Liberty Metal (awarded by the National Constitution Center, which Bush chairs) at the event, honoring her commitment to civic engagement, particularly with women and girls. Apparently he took some grief for it, mortal enemies (rather than civic partners) that we’ve become. Here’s his comment at the time:

“While Secretary Clinton and I disagree on many issues, we certainly agree on the importance of civic engagement.”

This week former Governor Bush was interviewed by ABC News correspondent Jonathan Karl about the experience:

Jonathan Karl: “What was that conversation like?”

Jeb Bush: “It was very friendly. Treating people fairly and with civility is not a bad thing. It would be good for our country if political leaders actually took that to heart.”



Starting today, keep an eye on the sky (the Air Force won’t be…)

Sequestration Asteroid From Fox News:

“The Air Force says it can no longer afford to scan the sky for extraterrestrial threats that could doom the planet, all because of the sequester cuts Washington forced on itself when it failed to rein in the exploding national deficit. Called the Air Force Space Surveillance System, it’s “critical” to defense, the Air Force has said. By October 1, they’ll have to pull the plug.”

Apparently the extraterrestrial threats include about 1,000 asteroids large enough to “potentially unleash global catastrophic devastation to the planet upon impact.”

Kind of a big deal, yes? this bit of asteroid news you probably shouldn’t expect much of a reaction from our elected officials. Last spring, when one asteroid actually did hit earth and one closely missed us on the same day, Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL) asked NASA chief Charles Bolden what NASA would do if a large asteroid was expected to collide with earth in three weeks.

“The answer to you is, ‘if it’s coming in three weeks, pray.’ The reason I can’t do anything in the next three weeks is because for decades we have put it off.”

So break out the space suits, America, and give Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck a heads up. Looks like we’re on our own again.



Florence Snyder: Dexter Douglass

Dexter-DouglassWith the passing of Dexter Douglass, Florida has lost a lawyer who made friends out of clients, and left them in better condition than he found them.

Douglass hung out his shingle in an era when lawyers aspired to be the first person in town that everyone looked to as a wise counselor and community problem-solver. He held to that standard, even as the practice of law changed.

Douglass was a high priced gladiator in high stakes, high profile litigation and a master storyteller who could have made a lot of money without working hard as a cable news “legal analyst.”

Instead, and to the end of his life, he preferred helping real people with real problems, whether or not they could afford to pay.

Journalists old enough to remember a world in which professionals and public officials could think and speak for themselves appreciated Douglass’ accessibility, his love of language, and his ability to take his work a great deal more seriously than he took himself.

Reporters who know the difference between real and fake friends of the 1st amendment paid their respects in print and in person at his funeral Saturday at Tallahassee’s Faith Presbyterian Church.

“Sometimes he didn’t like what we wrote about him or his governor”[Lawton Chiles, in whose administration Douglass served as general counsel]legend in her own right Lucy Morgan told the Miami Herald. “Several times he and I had shouting matches over the phone,” said Morgan, who headed the St. Petersburg Times Tallahassee Bureau in years when Douglass was regularly making big news “but the next time I’d see him it was as though we had never argued.”

William Jablon, a 45 year friend, underscored the point in his eulogy.

“Dexter served as my mentor and lawyer for 35 years when I became headmaster of Maclay School,” Jablon said. “He always told me do the right thing….. He also told me that in speaking with the press tell them the truth; it always confuses them.”

Douglass took joy from the practice of law because he kept things simple. Get up in the morning. Don’t do anything stupid all day long. Don’t let your clients do anything stupid, either.

In 58 years as a working lawyer, Douglass had only two kinds of clients: those who took his advice and were glad they did, and those, like recount loser Al Gore, who listened to some other lawyer and wished they hadn’t.

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Florence Snyder is a corporate and First Amendment lawyer. Contact her at lawyerflo@gmail.com.



Join the Asteroids Club: Possibly too true to be funny

asteroids social media cartoon

Cartoon courtesy of XKCD.com

Learn about our Asteroids Club season online HERE.



Florence Snyder: The Fourth Estate in the Sunshine State

Context Florida Publisher Peter Schorsch got it wrong dead wrong when he suggested in his September 5 Saintpetersblog post that reporter envy might taint coverage of the Chris Clark imbroglio.

Miami Herald Tallahassee Bureau Chief Mary Ellen Klas broke the story that Floridas power elite has spent the week chewing over, praying over, and kvetching over.

Klas reported that Clark makes megabucks as a political consultant, servicing clients he also deals with in his $150,000 day job as Senate President Don Gaetz chief of staff.

That was news to the 99%, most of whom think that $150,000 is real money, and more than enough to purchase all of a legislative staffers time and loyalty to the public that picks up the tab.

In 21st century Florida, everythings legal and theres no such thing as a conflict of interest. Taxpayers, and even the press, have become desensitized to public servants who hang out their influence-peddling shingles at 5 oclock on the day they cash their last government paycheck.

But Clarks real-time revolving door is something new.

Schorsch, himself a political consultant, is open-minded about Clarks hybrid job and rightly suggests that if this is the new normal, some public dialogue is in order.

As we continue to discuss this story, a better sense of proportion is needed,” Schorsch wrote.

Nobody could argue against proportion, but Schorsch goes a phrase too far when he posits that proportion may not come from envious reporters making little more than Highway Patrolmen.

Schorsch was blogging from a family vacation and may not have intended the juxtaposition of Klas and the Green Eyed Monster.

But plenty of Tallahassees movers, shakers, and legends in their own minds do confuse real reporters like Klas with the burgeoning population of reporters turned media lobbyists.

Lobbying the press is big business, and an out-of-control cancer on the body politic. As the News Service of Floridas Dara Kam showed in a groundbreaking story this week, professional press wranglers have been redefined as an expected expenditure for anyone who wants anything from government.

“Conduits to the media”, Kam reports, have become a routine cost of doing business, and the special interests will pay through the nose for ex-reporters willing to call themselves story brokers and peddle someone’s party line to their old colleagues.

Klas is lucky, and so are we, that whats left of the Miami Herald will pay her a wage she can live on to find out things that Senate Presidents and their retinues dont want you to know.

Klas could have cashed in her credibility for a Chris Clark size income in media lobbying years ago..if she were the envious type.

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Florence Snyder is a corporate and First Amendment lawyer. Contact her at lawyerflo@gmail.com



Get Local Tallahassee: Deadline to apply to be a KCCI Catalyst is Friday

Learn about it online at www.kccitallahassee.com

Screen shot 2013-08-28 at 4.24.13 PM

We are big fans of KCCI. It’s an incredible opportunity afforded our community by the Knight Foundation that other communities simply don’t have. If you get chosen to be a catalyst, you join a cool group of local people to imagine and complete a project to make Tallahassee an even better place to live. Every year The Village Square’s OUR TOWN series features the cool work of KCCI catalyst projects in our Fast Forward Tallahassee program.

Surely, you want that to be you? Deadline to apply is Friday. Tick tock.



Florence Snyder: Three times the public records fun in the Sunshine State

open_governmentFans of Florida’s public records law have a trifecta of stories to chew on this week.

The first involves the tragic death of University of Central Florida (UCF) football player Ereck Plancher, who collapsed and died on the practice field in 2008.

A jury awarded Plancher’s family $10 million, but the verdict was overturned by the 5th District Court of Appeal because Florida’s “sovereign immunity” laws place a $200,000 cap on damages against the state.

The family contended that the defendant UCF Athletics Association, Inc., a “direct support organization” (DSO) that runs the UCF football program, was a private corporation that could not claim the benefit of the $200,000 cap.

Nonsense. As the Court said, the Association is “wholly controlled by and intertwined with UCF, in that UCF created it, funded it and can dissolve it, in addition to oversee its day-to-day operations as much or as little as it sees fit.”

DSOs have proliferated like kudzu at state universities. They collect and spend billions of dollars which are effectively controlled by the university presidents. The Pancher case reminds us that DSO records are a treasure trove of information that the public has a right to request and a need to read.

Over on the Right Coast, the public relations geniuses at Broward Healthcare tried to spike a story about the salaries and benefits of top administrators by demanding $421 to produce public payroll records to reporters for the non-profit website Broward Bulldog.

Bulldog barked back with a crowd funding campaign. The embarrassed hospital district promptly rolled over and coughed up the records.

The Department of Corrections (DOC) has a higher threshold of shame, so the ACLU of Florida has gone to court to test the bona fides of the agency’s claim that it can’t possibly figure out the cell and bunk assignments at Santa Rosa Correctional Institution.

The News Service Florida extracted this instant classic explanation from DOC flack Misty Cash: “We have a fabulous IT team and they do everything and anything possible to supply records and things that they can,” Cash said. “However, we have a very antiquated system and often times it’s not easy to use that system and find what is there.”

“The DOC has a constitutional and statutory duty to provide access to its public records,” First Amendment Foundation President Barbara Petersen told The News Service. “The fact that they have stored these records in a manner that makes them irretrievable is their problem.”

Indeed it is.

And it’s everybody’s problem that DOC—even with the help of a taxpayer-funded “Bed Space Management System” —won’t admit to knowing where the prisoners are bedding down.

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Florence Snyder is a corporate and First Amendment lawyer. Contact her at lawyerflo@gmail.com (Photo credit)



Florence Snyder: Surely it was inevitable that the boomers would create TGIO (thankfully, in Tallahassee)

There’s not much to smile about in this Summer of Tsuris. Governor Rick Scott has fled the jurisdiction as Dream Defenders occupy the Capitol. Deck chairs are being shuffled at the Department of Children & Families. The Agency for Health Care Administration is using the children it warehouses in geriatric nursing homes as an excuse to bash Obamacare. Obscene “compensation” pours into the pockets of shameless officers and directors at Florida Blue.

So it was a welcome and altogether unexpected surprise this weekend to see hundreds of old folks dancing down Broadsway at Florida State University’s Opperman Music Hall.

That’s not a typo. “Broadsway” Productions is the second act of self-described recovering lawyer Elise Judelle and Peggy Brady, who recently retired after a 21-year run as Executive Director of the local Council on Culture and Arts.

Judelle and Brady are in show business full time now, and this weekend was the world premiere of a cabaret they call TGIO (Thank God I’m Old). For two solid hours, Broadsway’s troupe of singer-actors took an unsparing musical look at all manner of unfinished business people contend with in the 4th quarter of their lives. The characters portrayed come from the songbooks of pop, rock, and country, as well as the Great White Way, and the stakes are high, because time on the clock is running low.

The Judelle-Brady spirit of “hey kids, let’s put on a show!” made for a great performance, but even more interesting was the audience.

The 442 seat venue was close to full of local retirees. Some of the faces were recognizable, but most were unsung heroes of generations of state workers, educators and journalists who served Florida in the decades before it was the world’s leading exporter of late night comedy.

The token young person in the room was cast member Kelly Staver Elliott, who sang the role of a beloved granddaughter in a reimagined version of “For Good,” a signature song from Stephen Schwartz’s “Wicked.” More often, Elliott was camping it up as a sweet young thing who catches the eyes of over-the-hill men armed with high hopes and a few hits of Viagra.

Audience emotions were toyed with in ways not generally associated with attorneys like Judelle, who spent much of her career doing the mind-numbing work of a bond lawyer at Bryant Miller Olive, the firm founded by the late Gov. Farris Bryant.

Show-goers toggled between uproarious laughter and barely-muffled sobs. There was a relaxed camaraderie in the audience that one used to see in the halls of power back when public service was an end in itself, and not a pit stop on the path to a lucrative life of influence peddling and no-bid contracts.

At intermission, people who used to be bold-faced names worked the room. They recognized people who, long ago, did real work competently at metal desks far removed from the corner offices of agency heads and managing partners. Unlike today’s “executive leadership teams” who always have their eyes on the name tags, looking for someone more important to talk to, they greeted old subordinates as equals, and asked after their children.

Judelle and Brady’s Glee for Geezers seems destined for future performance on the road and on the Internet. But on opening night, it felt like it was the audience that should be taking the bow.

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Florence Snyder is a corporate and First Amendment lawyer. Contact her at lawyerflo@gmail.com



Immigration: It’s Not Going Away

Immigration Reform is the next issue that Village Square will take up. The date is Sept. 19, from 6-8:15 p.m. at the Conference Center of the Seminole campus. When we identified this as a priority for Village Square earlier in the summer, we were concerned that events might overtake us that Congress might have had the debate, taken a vote, and disposed of this controversy for the foreseeable future. That looked more likely when the Senate passed the comprehensive immigration reform bill on June 27 by a 68-32 vote.

Not likely. The House appears to be in no hurry to take up the Senate bill. On July 10 House Republicans overwhelmingly decided not to consider the 844-page bill. So we arent worried about this issue becoming somewhat moot by early Fall. Indeed, with the House leadership apparently dug in against the bipartisan Senate measure, immigration is likely to be with us as a heated debate for a long time.

House opposition appears to be related to mistrust of the White House. The Obama administration cannot be trusted to deliver on its promises to secure the border and enforce laws as part of a single, massive bill like the one passed by the Senate, the New York Times reported, quoting a statement issued after the meeting. (http://nyti.ms/14O14Jo) House leaders prefer to deal with immigration by a piecemeal process, considering several individual bills rather than the comprehensive package approved by the Senate. Among the first concerns of House members is border security and enforcement, followed by full compliance with the E-Verify system of electronic verification by employers of workers legal status. A path to citizenship for the 11 million-plus undocumented workers now in the U.S. would be far down the GOP list of immigration priorities.

Their position was announced on the same day that former President George W. Bush, a Republican, spoke publicly in favor of immigration reform. Saying The laws governing the immigration system arent working; the system is broken, President Bush expressed hope for a positive resolution to the debate, and urged that during the debate, we keep a benevolent spirit in mind, and we understand the contributions immigrants make to our country. (http://nyti.ms/12sRD2l)

Watch this space for more details on our September forum, coming soon.

David Klement, Executive Director

Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions

St. Petersburg College



Afraid of Losing It? Join Village Square!

If anyone needed further evidence that they should be part of Village Square, here is scientific proof: It can help stave off dementia.

Thats the conclusion of a study by a researcher with the Rush University Alzheimers Disease Center in Chicago. In following 1,600 older adults since 1997, researcher Robert Wilson and his team found that those who were most active in late life showed a 32 percent slower rate of decline than those who maintained an average level of mental activity. More tellingly, the least-active had a 48 percent faster fall into dementia.

The data he collected demonstrate that staying intellectually stimulated can help slow memory loss and lessen the onset of dementia. That is the reverse of the common theory that it is encroaching disease that causes cognitive inactivity. This adds to a growing body of research that concludes that keeping the brain busy with reading, writing and learning new things is the best way to stay mentally sharp into the 80s and beyond.

So, what does this have to do with Village Square at SPC? Well, Village Square is all about intellectual stimulation. The programs help attendees learn new things. They encourage participants to think and to engage in discussion about topical issues. That may lead to further reading and research to dig deeper into the topic being discussed. Ergo: Adios, dementia demons.

How to join Village Square? Its simple: Go to spcollege.edu/solutions, and click the Village Square tab.

By David Klement, Executive Director

Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions

St. Petersburg College



Tallahassee Democrat: Author addresses deepening partisan divide

Tuesday’s dinner program is sold out, but you can still add your name to the waiting list HERE, hear Dr. Haidt speak at FSU HERE or listen to the program on WFSU 88.9 FM at 7pm on Friday, September 21 (or when it goes up online HERE).

From the Tallahassee Democrat:

Know anyone who reacts violently to political agendas of the “other side”?

They probably have a long list of reasons for their feelings: the other side is rude, selfish, has tunnel vision and is steering the nation to ruin.

Social psychologist and author Jonathan Haidt, Ph.D., thinks those very attitudes are destructive to America.

He’ll be speaking Tuesday night on the morality that “binds and blinds” our nation’s biggest political parties. Haidt will follow the ticketed, seated dinner and speech, “Polarization, Demonization and Paralysis in American Politics,” with a free, broader talk, “The Righteous Mind,” at Florida State University’s Student Life Cinema. Read the entire article in the Tallahassee Democrat.