It’s been more than 150 years since Florida Gov. John Milton killed himself, a week before Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered in one of the final battles of the Civil War.
Suicide was a better option than joining a nation in which the North and the South were united, Milton decided.
“Death would be preferable to reunion,” Milton reportedly said before taking his own life in 1865.
The Florida governor’s reaction to the end of the Civil War is a stark representation of multi-generation divisions in the Sunshine State, which sanctioned slavery in 1822. Less than three decades later, slaves comprised an estimated 44 percent of Florida’s population.
While the Civil War ended slavery, Florida operated under Jim Crow laws and other racially divisive measures until the 1960s.
How the nation – and the state – copes with its at-times shameful history has dominated the week’s news.
The burgeoning civil war over the Civil War and its icons is deepening the schism between the right and the left in what could be one of modern history’s most divided political eras.
But the Florida history lesson provides some context for the ongoing clashes over Confederate monuments, as well as for the right to talk about the underlying racial and ethnic tensions still roiling the nation.
In the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu centuries ago laid down some advice that might be useful in today’s Twitter-dominated times.
“A leader is best when people barely know he exists,” the philosopher advised. “Of a good leader, who talks little, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say, `We did this ourselves.’ “
SPEECH ON TRIAL
White nationalists denied the opportunity to speak at the University of Florida are pledging to sue.
Citing “serious concerns” about safety in the aftermath of a deadly weekend clash in Charlottesville, Virginia, university officials nixed a speech by white nationalist leader Richard Spencer, who wanted to appear on the Gainesville campus next month.
In a message to staff Wednesday morning, university President Kent Fuchs said the decision to deny the National Policy Institute’s request to rent space on campus came “after assessing potential risks” with campus, state, local and federal law enforcement officials.
Continued calls “online and in social media for similar violence in Gainesville such as those decreeing: `The Next Battlefield is Florida’” also played a role in the decision, Fuchs said.
But Cameron Padgett, a Georgia resident coordinating the event with Spencer, told The News Service of Florida they are working with attorneys and plan to file a lawsuit challenging Fuchs’ decision.
Spencer is a leader in the “alt-right” movement, blamed for a deadly outburst following a “Unite the Right” rally Saturday in Charlottesville. One person died when a car plowed into a group of counter-protesters, and two Virginia state troopers died in a helicopter crash while monitoring the situation.
“I find the racist rhetoric of Richard Spencer and white nationalism repugnant and counter to everything the university and this nation stands for,” Fuchs wrote. “That said, the University of Florida remains unwaveringly dedicated to free speech and the spirit of public discourse. However, the First Amendment does not require a public institution to risk imminent violence to students and others. The likelihood of violence and potential injury — not the words or ideas — has caused us to take this action.”
DECRYING RACISM, PUNTING ON TRUMP
Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi, both strong supporters of President Donald Trump, decried racism and groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis this week but tap-danced away from criticizing the president as reverberations mounted following the deadly weekend in Virginia.
“I served in the Navy. My dad served in the Second World War,” Scott said. “I didn’t serve to defend neo-Nazis.”
Bondi, meanwhile, expressed support for the University of Florida president’s decision to ban Spencer from appearing on campus.
“Of course, we all believe in the First Amendment, but his priority as president of the University of Florida is to protect the students that go to that school,” Bondi said. “That’s why I think that’s very important.”
Scott and Bondi, however, kept their distance from a controversy about statements Trump made after white nationalists rallied in Charlottesville, leading to clashes with counter-protesters.
The governor said he was disgusted by what took place in Charlottesville and said a white supremacist “murdered” a woman by driving a car into a crowd of counter-protesters. Scott noted that the woman, Heather Heyer, 32, was about the same age as one of his daughters.
“There is no place in our country for racism, bigotry, the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists,” Scott said. He added: “There is no moral equivalence between the two sides.”
But Scott did not directly criticize Trump who has said “both sides” were to blame for the weekend violence in Virginia.
“You can ask President Trump what he said. I’ve been clear,” Scott told reporters in Tallahassee.
NOTHING TO SEE HERE
Scott on Thursday had lunch with Trump at a New Jersey golf resort, even as the president continued to draw criticism for comments about the white nationalist rally.
Scott’s lunch with the president at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., was scheduled at the request of Trump last week, according to the governor’s aides, who were quick to provide context for the meeting.
“Gov. Scott was solely there to promote Florida,” John Tupps, a spokesman for Scott, said in a statement. “They discussed a wide range of topics including the president’s commitment to partner with Florida on needed repairs to the federally operated Herbert Hoover Dike at Lake Okeechobee.”
Tupps said Scott “wants to do all he can to protect Florida’s environment and President Trump is very supportive to help.”
“Additionally, they discussed the terror attack (Thursday) in Barcelona and the efforts President Trump is taking to keep America safe,” Tupps said.
But with Trump embroiled in controversy about the Charlottesville comments, the lunch meeting drew criticism from Democrats.
“Instead of condemning President Trump’s heinous remarks, Rick Scott did what he always does: put his own political ambitions and self-interest ahead of what’s right for Florida,” said David Bergstein, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “Instead of sitting down to eat with President Trump, Scott should have stood up to him.”
GOING OLD SCHOOL
With a cavorting dolphin as an eye-popping prop, state Sen. Jack Latvala made a pitch to hometown supporters Wednesday as an “old-school Republican” with the blend of government and private-sector experience that makes him the right fit to be the state’s next governor.
Latvala, a blunt-speaking legislator called a “cheerful curmudgeon” by one supporter, highlighted his strengths and his weaknesses during a gubernatorial campaign kickoff event held in sweltering heat at the waterfront Clearwater Marine Aquarium.
“I may not be the best-looking candidate for governor. I may not be the most physically fit candidate for governor. I may not even be the smartest candidate,” he said, drawing groans from the crowd.
“But you can depend on me to do what I’ve always done, and that is (a), tell you the truth, (b), do what I say I’m going to do, and (c), work as hard as I can every single day for you,” he concluded, receiving cheers.
Latvala, who opened a campaign account last week, joined state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam in what could be a crowded GOP primary in the race to replace the term-limited Scott. House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Congressman Ron DeSantis also are considering bids for the governor’s mansion.
STORY OF THE WEEK: University of Florida officials rejected a request from white nationalist leader Richard Spencer to speak on campus next month. Organizers say they intend to sue the university over the decision.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “Just don’t be Trump’s mini-me, a simple rule,” Republican strategist Rick Wilson, a leading critic of President Donald Trump, offering advice to GOP candidates during an appearance at the Capital Tiger Bay Club.
Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.