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A Visit to the Legislature
May 15, 2002
by Abe Bonowitz
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Wednesday night Sarah, Juan and I drove from Jupiter to Gainesville, and stayed at the home of Robert and Sue Webster – two wonderful and gracious (and flexible!) hosts. Thursday morning we were on the road by 7am to Tallahassee, arriving right on schedule at 9:30am to set up for the 10am press conference at the Tallahassee Press Center. We were joined by Tom Horkan of the Florida Catholic Conference and Larry Spalding of the ACLU, as well as Kim O’Connor and Marty McClain, who came to support our efforts. While it is difficult to track what, if any, of our messages made it to the airwaves, the conference was well attended given that we did not have what might be considered “hot” news. Florida Radio Network, Florida Public Radio, Florida’s News Channel, AP Television, Rueters News Service, The Miami Herald, and the Independent Alligator were among those in attendance. Photos and a transcript of what was said can be found at https://fadpprod.wpengine.com/https://fadpprod.wpengine.comwordpress/?page_id=3746.
After the press conference, Juan, Sarah and I went to the capital with the initial intent of delivering to each legislative office a copy of the report from The Constitution Project suggesting 18 reforms to the death penalty that would make the death penalty, if we must have it at all, more fair and accurate. See a link to the report from https://fadpprod.wpengine.comwordpress/?page_id=3990.
Every time I take a death row survivor to the legislature, the first stop is always at the office of the Governor. As we entered the main lobby of the State House, I could see that the hallway leading to the Governor’s office was packed with school children. We elbowed our way through, and as we got to the doorway, there was Lieutenant Governor Toni Jennings, just finishing up some “grab & grin” photos with the students. Our timing could not have been more perfect. I put my box down, pulled out a copy of the report, and said, “Mrs. Jennings, thank you for your letter that you just wrote me.” Smile. That caught her attention. By this time the students were all out of the hallway and the area was quiet. I introduced myself, and told her that I would be responding to her letter in detail. Then I introduced Sarah and Juan, “who was released after almost 18 years on death row for a crime he did not commit…. And the prosecutor KNEW he was innocent before going to trial.” Jennings maintained her composure, asked how long he had been out, and then thanked us for stopping by. I asked for a picture.
Finally, before leaving the area I left a copy of our letter and the report with the receptionist at the Governor’s office, but not before personalizing the letter as follows:
Dear Governor Kevorkian,
Sooner or later we’ll find out if that made it into the round file, or if they actually maintain a file on all of my rantings and activities against the smarter and more devious of the Bush brothers….
NEXT, we went looking for the office of the Senate President. As we came out of the elevator on the 4th(?) floor, there was the Legislative Black Caucus, assembling for a press conference to express their dismay at how the African American community was/is being short-changed again by the Republican budget. Seeing the opportunity to talk with people who might actually be with us on our issue, we decided to watch the press conference and then talk with those legislators. Several of the representatives and senators that I spoke with did express interest, although I was dismayed that *none* recalled the packet we mailed to their district offices the week previous. One legislator, Frederica Wilson of Miami, invited us to her office to talk. Sitting with her, she and her aide expressed that while they are completely with us, the current climate just does not allow for any progressive movement on the issue of the death penalty. In fact, they hesitate to even mention the issue on the floor of the Senate for fear of a backlash – at least at this time while the budget discussion includes whether or not to fund the Capital Collateral Regional Counsel (CCRC) offices. I impressed upon Mrs. Wilson that the budget implications might be an avenue to pursue, and she expressed her commitment to introduce legislation calling for a “time-out” (moratorium) on executions in the next session. We got another photo, and then abandoned our plans to further distribute the reports in favor of lunch at “Oleans,” a soul food joint not too far from the CCRC offices. After visiting with folks at the CCRC office, we hit the road for the prison.
NEXT REPORT will cover the stay, the killing, and our other activities to date on this trip…
… as well as our address on Saturday to the delegates attending the state convention of the Florida Green Party before heading back to Jupiter.
See selected news items at https://fadpprod.wpengine.com/news/newshttps://fadpprod.wpengine.comwordpress/?page_id=3619.
Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty
2603 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Hwy
Gainesville, FL 32609