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SRQ Daily Jan 12, 2019

Saturday Perspectives Edition

Saturday Perspectives Edition

"Our students get to contribute in meaningful ways to Sarasota and Manatee counties by partnering with established organizations with deep ties to this region."

- Donal O'Shea, New College of Florida

[Under The Hood]  A Return to Democracy
Jacob Ogles, jacob.ogles@srqme.com

Voter turnout after any given election reveals many citizens take the chance to participate in democracy for granted. But the automatic restoration of rights to more than a million ex-felons in Florida this week shows how badly people missed this ability once it was gone.

“Returning citizens could be the biggest voting bloc in Florida,” said Michael Barfield, Board President of the ACLU of Florida.

A new amendment to Florida’s constitution kicked in Tuesday, opening polling station doors anew to those who already paid a price to society. Elections officials report 100 self-identified ex-felons in Manatee County and another 78 in Sarasota registered to vote the first three days of this new era of eligibility.

That’s likely not even the full picture. Voters registering locally for the first time do not have to disclose their past criminal status, according to Amy Lynn Potter, an administrative specialist in Sarasota’s office. It’s likely many of the 151 other registrations in Sarasota on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday fell into the category of “returning citizens.”

As debate over voting rights restoration played last year, it became clear the lifetime ban on ex-felons voting encompassed a far broader group than many might presume. Of course, a disproportionate number of people in Florida’s minority population suffered this unjust punishment. A flip through Department of Corrections inmate photos reveals the disproportionate impact felony convictions can have.

Barfield said the link to the Jim Crow era, documented in the minutes of the Florida Legislature, showed racist intent always existed with voting restriction.

But a lifetime voting ban also impacted many white-collar criminals, small-time repeat offenders and even individuals who never spent a single day in prison.

Consider Brett Ramsden, a Manatee County man who ultimately served as Florida Justice Initiatives for the Christian Coalition’s campaign in favor of the amendment. A recovering opioid abuser, he never got arrested on a felony charge, but landed in front of a judge enough times to eventually be sentenced to two years of felony probation. He told me 75 percent of returning citizens never served prison time. “Our offenses weren’t considered serious enough,” he said.

But they were bad enough to justify a lifetime ban on voting. And the loss of democratic rights in Florida kicked in once the words “felony conviction” ended up on a rap sheet.

Or they did. While there’s still debate in Tallahassee about who will verify ex-felons indeed completed their restitution, elections supervisors across Florida did not wait to register people.

What will this mean? Many predict the measure could completely remake Florida, changing the balance in the swingiest of purple states. Would ex-felons have made a change in the last election, where three statewide offices were decided by margins of less than 35,000 out of 8.2 million cast? Maybe, but as noted, the ban on felon voting didn’t just affect poor minority communities, and partisan make-up of returning citizens may not be as lop-sided as some expect.

Barfield, an ex-felon himself, hasn’t registered yet, joking that there’s a betting pool what party he chooses. “I’d like the pot to get a little bit bigger,” he said. But the Sarasotan will be ready to vote before the next major election.

True impacts remains to be seen of course. My Where The Votes Are analyses through the years always show minority populations producing lower turnout. In November, for example, 69.8 percent of white voters in Sarasota-Manatee turned out to vote, but just 59.2 percent of black voters and 49.25 percent of Hispanic voters did the same. One explanation could be populations that feel marginalized also feel less motivated to participate in elections.

Perhaps those once denied the right to vote will feel a greater motivation to be counted. It may be the recent change in law makes them, for the first time in a long time, feel welcome at the polls.

Jacob Ogles is contributing senior editor for SRQ Media Group. 

[Higher Education]  Better Than a Resolution: January at New College
Donal O'Shea, doshea@ncf.edu

Throughout the month of January, New College of Florida students are developing a mobile health literacy app for the Florida Literacy Coalition, assisting the Asolo Repertory Theatre with its spring productions of The Cake and Sweeney Todd, student-teaching at St. Stephen’s School in Bradenton, and monitoring the effects of red tide on mammals in Sarasota Bay.


New College requires students complete three Independent Study Projects in order to graduate, and most students spend several weeks each January working on them. Working under the guidance of our professors, the students pursue myriad research projects, develop artistic and theatrical productions and participate in professional internships at schools, libraries, research labs, community organizations and public policy institutes. While some students travel abroad or out of state for independent study projects, the majority remain here in the Sarasota-Bradenton area.

The hundreds of independent study projects and field-based internships in which students are currently involved teach them about the unique challenges and opportunities that define our home city and surrounding area. As importantly, our students get to contribute in meaningful ways to Sarasota and Manatee counties by partnering with established organizations with deep ties to this region.

Whether they’re interning at the Multicultural Health Institute in Sarasota, volunteering at the Lemur Conservation Foundation in Myakka City, or conducting environmental research at Triangle Ranch in Manatee County, the students gain valuable hands-on experience that complements their classroom learning and contributes to the well-being of our local community. But independent work does much more than this—it powerfully improves learning in its own right. The experience of framing (and reframing) a problem, managing information and time, judging what is knowable and changeable provides critical cognitive tools that students will use through their lives.    

Almost paradoxically, exploring different areas of interest to the student sets that student up for future career opportunities. Young people are instinctively curious and independent work prepares them to act constructively on that curiosity. These young people will eventually become the educators, scientists, lawyers, artists, journalists and community leaders that contribute to our state’s economy and our region’s well being. Every employer wants them.  

When you see a New College student out in the community, you might just want to encourage them—especially if they’re working on their latest independent student project.

Donal O’Shea is president of New College of Florida. 

[TODAY]  Sarasota Contemporary Dance Hosts Free "Day of Dance"

Sarasota Contemporary Dance welcomes the entire community and its neighbors for this joyful event, opening our home studio for our biannual “Day of Dance”, offering a variety of mini classes for adults and children. SCD brings Dance to Boulevard of the Arts; the building is located at the corner of Boulevard of the Arts and Central Avenue. The studio is on the third floor and is elevator-accessible. Signs and greeters will direct visitors, and parking is available in the area.

This multi-cultural event offers a taste of SCD classes, an opportunity to meet SCD teaching artists, and Studio Coordinator, Melissa Rummel.

[SCOOP]  Goodwill Partners with Girls Inc. on Backpacks for Vets Project

Just in time for the holidays, girls from Girls Inc. of Sarasota County had a lesson on philanthropy and gave of their own time and efforts to help those in need. Middle and high school girls enrolled at Girls Inc. participated in a Youth Lunch & Learn at the Goodwill Manasota Corporate Campus and the “Backpacks for Vets” project to help area homeless veterans. After lunch, a discussion of the history of, programs offered by, and volunteer opportunities available at Goodwill, and a behind-the-scenes tour of Goodwill's Corporate Campus retail store, participants from Girls Inc. and Goodwill packed essential items into durable backpacks, which are being distributed to homeless veterans through Goodwill’s Veterans Services Program. Supplies for the Backpacks for Vets project were provided by employees of Sabal Palm Bank.  

[SOON]  An Afternoon of Free Circus Music and Circus Acts

The Sailor Circus Academy and Windjammers Unlimited will be presenting a FREE musical concert and circus arts show on Sunday, January 20, 2019 at 1:30 p.m. at the Circus Sarasota Tent located at the BIG TOP in University Town Center. The tent is located just South of Dillards and is easily seen from Interstate 75. Windjammers Unlimited is a group of musicians from all over the United States who live and study the music of the circus as a hobby and then perform their music for the public. Over 125 musicians will be in Sarasota for their annual convention and they will hold a special community concert to benefit America’s longest running youth circus, Sailor Circus Academy. Members of “The Greatest ‘Little’ Show on Earth” will also perform for an hour with the music of the Windjammers Unlimited Band following the band concert. Donations will be accepted during this event to benefit the Sailor Circus Academy.        

Admission to the Concert/Circus Program is totally FREE and is OPEN SEATING based on availability of seats with the doors opening one hour before the performance at 12:30. 

[SOON]  SCF Offers Leadership Development Program

State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota (SCF) and Leadership Simplified will offer a 12-week leadership development program. Doug Van Dyke, CEO of Leadership Simplified, will offer the training sessions from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Thursdays beginning Jan. 17 in downtown Bradenton at the offices of Leadership Simplified, 1310 3rd Avenue West. The cost of the program is $3,500. Each participant will receive a thumb drive with five audio sessions to help reinforce material covered during the training sessions. They also will receive a copy of “Leadership Simplified – The Field Guide for Savvy Leaders.” Throughout the training participants will have access to Leadership Simplified’s online resources. Each participant also will receive a total of two-hours of one-on-one coaching with Van Dyke. The agenda for each one-on-one session will be tailored to best benefit the individual participant.

For more information, contact Lee Kotwicki at KotwicL@SCF.edu or 941-363-7218.


SRQ Media Group

SRQ DAILY is produced by SRQ | The Magazine and edited by Senior Editor Phil LedererNote: The views and opinions expressed in the Saturday Perspectives Edition and in the Letters department of SRQ DAILY are those of the author(s) and do not imply endorsement by SRQ Media. Senior Editor Jacob Ogles edits the Saturday Perspective Edition, Letters and Guest Contributor columns. For rates on SRQ DAILY banner advertising and sponsored content opportunities, please contact Ashley Ryan Cannon at 941-365-7702 x211 or via email

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