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Politics

Backroom Briefing: Confederate Flag Flap Renews Old Hope

June 25, 2015 - 9:00pm

The flap over Confederate flags now sweeping the nation is stirring in the Florida Panhandle, where folks who failed to get the controversial banner removed more than a decade ago have revived their efforts.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, a Republican, this week called for the flag to be removed from its post in front of the state Capitol in the aftermath of the shooting deaths of nine black churchgoers in Charleston. Haley called the Confederate flag "a deeply offensive symbol of a brutally offensive past."

Similar efforts by elected officials from both parties to banish the flag and other monuments to the Confederacy are underway throughout the country, including in Mississippi, Tennessee and Virginia.

In 2001, then-Gov. Jeb Bush ordered the divisive banner to be removed from its perch atop the Florida Capitol building. A year later, Walton County lawyer Daniel Uhlfelder, the son of Bush acolyte Steve Uhlfelder, was unable to persuade county commissioners to give the same treatment to a Confederate flag flying in front of the courthouse in DeFuniak Springs.

Uhlfelder, who lives in Santa Rosa Beach, has renewed his attempt to purge the county courthouse of the flag. Uhlfelder, with the help of his wife Michelle, got the item on the Walton County Commission's July 14 meeting agenda.

"Do we want to celebrate and sanction a symbol on public property that reminds us of hatred, slavery and division? Do we want to pass down a feeling of complacency with the status quo on this issue to my children and your children? I love the South and know we are better than this," Daniel Uhlfelder wrote in a recent op-ed.

The Uhlfelders started a petition drive Wednesday to drum up support for their cause. Within 24 hours, 278 people --- including Tallahassee movers and shakers, many of whom own property in the county renowned for its white sand beaches --- had signed onto the effort.

Barry Richard, a prominent Tallahassee lawyer married to Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Allison Tant, is among those backing the cause.

"I'm embarrassed to live in a community that flies a symbol of the worst period of hatred and disunity in our country's history," Richard, who owns a home in Santa Rosa Beach, wrote in the comments section on the change.org petition site.

Uhlfelder said he saw the recent commotion concerning the Confederate flag --- and the subsequent endorsement from Republicans, including the son of the late South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond, to take it down ---- as an opportunity.

"It seems like maybe there's this change in the opinion of people from 13 years ago, or maybe there's more support for this to get done this time," he told The News Service of Florida on Thursday.

TAXWATCH TURKEYS RELEASED AFTER BUDGET FLEW THE COOP

Florida TaxWatch, a business-backed think tank, once a year gets statewide ink for pointing out line items in the state budget it views as "turkeys." But this year the Tallahassee-based nonprofit got beaten to the punch.

When Gov. Rick Scott quickly slashed 450 lines worth almost $461.4 million from the $78.7 billion budget on Tuesday, TaxWatch was still scrutinizing the spending plan, which had been approved by the Legislature less than four days earlier.

Undaunted, TaxWatch analysts on Thursday targeted 189 items in the budget totaling $167.3 million as worthy of the "turkey" brand. TaxWatch labels as turkeys those projects that were inserted into the budget by lawmakers who circumvented the established legislative process or that were added to the budget during conference talks, without first being publicly debated or reviewed.

Kurt Wenner, TaxWatch vice president of research, said it was important for his organization to proceed with its annual "Budget Turkey Watch Report" --- even after the governor flexed his red pen --- to help Floridians hold lawmakers accountable for "some of these budgeting decisions."

More than 80 percent of the projects, and 76 percent of the funds, that TaxWatch questioned were among Scott's cuts. Those included $2 million earmarked for the for-profit IMG Academy athlete-training program in Bradenton; $250,000 for the Navy SEAL Museum in Fort Pierce; $250,000 for restoration of the St. Marks Lighthouse in Wakulla; and $250,000 for the Arcadia Rodeo.

But there were some noticeable items that Scott slashed and TaxWatch didn't find objectionable.

One of the bigger-ticket items was $15 million that Scott cut for a downtown Orlando campus for the University of Central Florida. The project had the backing of Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando. Scott declared the money wasn't approved through the Florida Board of Governors' review process.

But Wenner, noting that politics plays a role in Scott's vetoes, said the UCF funding had been tied to a funding request on the state university system's Board of Governors public education capital outlay, or PECO, list.

"Those are pretty straightforward for us," Wenner said. "That's one of those established processes … where the Board of Governors makes the decision on what projects, high priorities, to fund. Our feeling was it did go through the process."

TWEET OF THE WEEK: "SCOTUSCare! Supreme Court quickly becoming the most active legislative body in America. #Sayfie" --- Florida House Appropriations Chairman Richard Corcoran (@richardcorcoran), in response to Thursday's U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.

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