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The week we weathered Gov. Rick Scott's terrible foray into teaching Immokalee kids about owl pellets and farming ... before getting lost in the gay crossfire of a mayoral bitchfest over a benefits ordinance. Floridian pride overload!

OK, let’s get to work! Thursday, Nov. 10 was a good day for nearly everybody in the state of Florida, with the exception of a handful of elementary, middle and high school students in a rural South Florida town. Why? Because that day, Gov. Rick Scott didn’t have much time to ruin – sorry, govern – the state. Instead, he devoted his day to teaching children in Immokalee, Fla., about the “composition of barn owl pellets” (owl pellets!) as well as “taxation and fiscal policy.” (There are not yet any confirmed reports of teachers or reporters vomiting in their mouths during the second presentation). Hot for teacher, anyone?

This visit, according to a press statement from his office, was part of his ongoing pledge to work “at least one day each month at jobs that mirror the tasks he performed on his journey from public housing to the Governor’s Mansion.” You know, like when he was “DJ Govvy Gov” on that Carnival Cruise ship? Personally, we can’t wait until he assumes the role of chief executive of a for-profit health care company that defrauds the federal government! But wait, hold up: Rick Scott was a public school teacher? We tried in vain to find the evidence of the governor’s teaching experience – we even issued a question to the governor’s office and received no reply – and mused on what it would be like to visit public schools in a poor town after cutting $1.75 billion from the public school system and pressing for economic policies which, if illustrated, would resemble a giant middle finger toward the poor.

We were even more interested to find, however, that one of Scott’s lessons, given in a U.S. history class at Immokalee Middle School, was about “farming in the American colonies.”A field trip down the street, into the vast tomato fields surrounding Immokalee, would probably have been just as effective a demonstration of the farming methods of yesteryear. Much of Immokalee’s population is comprised of migrant farmworkers from Central and South America who work long hours picking hard green tomatoes by hand. Many leave their homes at 5 a.m. and return at 7 p.m. Their rough working conditions are the stuff of legend, but not stories they are particularly proud of – some of them have been beaten, refused their wages and even locked into shoddy trailers at night, essentially victims of modern-day slavery.

Things in Immokalee are changing, however. Last November, a group called the Coalition of Immokalee Workers – a hybrid of migrant farmworkers and citizen activists – forced a historic agreement with the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, a trade group that oversees nearly all of the state’s large tomato companies. (See “Harvest of hope,” Dec. 9, 2010). The FTGE agreed that it would pass along an extra penny per pound of tomatoes picked, and in addition, would allow a third party to evaluate worker complaints and make sure that CIW’s “Fair Food Code of Conduct” is respected.

Jordan Buckley, a longtime volunteer with Interfaith Action, which works closely with the CIW, told us on Nov. 11 that those new worker protections are set to go into effect with the beginning of this growing season, which generally runs from late November until May. Now, dear farmworker, you can throw pennies at Rick Scott along with rotten tomatoes. You’re rich!

Speaking of rich, when we last broached the big municipal gay divide all of two weeks ago – you know, the part where the city produced its expected boilerplate proposing a domestic partner registry to the county, effectively pushing the county to do the same by Nov. 11, because that would be cheaper – the only real controversy was that the county, being a practical lady, was going to have to mull it over. Now, because we’ve all effectively washed the glitter and three-day hangovers out of our Come Out With Pride (Take Two!) parade bliss, some new, gayer realities have set in. And, uh-oh, they involve the not-so-hotly-contested Orlando mayoral race!

On the evening of Nov. 10, aspirational campaign outlier Mike Cantone took to the steps of City Hall – with about a dozen supporters in tow – to toothily announce his petition for something more comprehensive than the city’s measly registry ambitions, which, if we’re to be honest, basically amounts to gay couples paying for the right to deal with their dying partners. Still, progress?

Anyway, Cantone’s press-conferenced-for-one (us!) proposal effectively piggybacks on the registry idea, requiring that any company that signs contracts to do business with the city in excess of $100,000 would have to offer gay couples – ostensibly those signed up for the city’s non-existent registry – the same benefits that they offer hetero couples: sick leave, bereavement leave, family medical leave and health insurance. God, rights are depressing.

In a bizarre act of fairy fate, a strikingly similar ordinance passed in Broward County on Nov. 8, though Cantone says that he was ready to roll his proposal out last month at the canceled parade, that is, until all of gay pride was washed away. But (alleged) foresight isn’t all that Cantone’s bringing to the issue. He’s also packing a little snide defiance. At the Thursday night speech, Cantone spoke of a city that’s “no longer talking about fusing our values and politicstogether,” a mean old city that’s fond of saying “now is not the right time,” a soon-to-be-orphaned city with a mayor wearing a statewide-office glint in his eye. (Dyer for governor? Um.)

“We’re expected to wait, especially in an election season,” Cantone said. Cue: arched brow.

Instead, Cantone and his Mike-alikes are pressuring the city commissioners and mayor to push his benefits ordinance before the April 3 city election, thus removing (read: escalating) the politics from the whole ordeal. Cantone pointed to the video that Mayor Buddy Dyer mailed in for the annual Equality Florida gala on Nov. 5, basically calling foul on hizzoner’s cautious embrace of gay loving. He said that the mayor’s “punt” of the registry ordinance off to Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs was “a clear sign that Orlando is not yet a world-class city.” Them, as they say, are fighting words.

But Dyer is not the only one in conflict with Cantone’s instant gay activism. Equality Florida, which has worked directly with city staff and the mayor to get the registry passed – and played a large part in crafting Broward County’s new benefits ordinance – isn’t terribly impressed.

“As far as Mike’s campaign goes, it’s disappointing that he would characterize the city’s work with the county as a punt. Mike wasn’t working on an equal benefits ordinance before he was a candidate,” says Equality Florida Field Director Joe Saunders of Cantone’s casting of Dyer as a gimmicky politician. “So that’s sort of the pot calling the kettle black.” Snap! (To be fair, Cantone’s campaign claims he has worked on gay issues in Florida since 2008).

And though Saunders applauds Cantone for raising the issue of a benefits ordinance, he suspects that newbie Cantone isn’t paying enough mind to how much of a process these touchy social issues can be.

“It takes time to draft policies,” Saunders says. “In terms of timing, we’ve got to get the registry done first.”

For its part, the county is remaining cautious on the registry issue. In a letter to the city dated Nov. 3, the county said its docket is full through the end of the year with other stuff like “redistricting, prescription drug force recommendations and ordinance, Workforce Central Florida update, Economic Development Incentive Program, etc.” It will continue to vet the issue, however methodically, and leave the political bickering to the city bitchfest, thank you. Being gay (-friendly) is exhausting.


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