A defining moment of Rick Scott's political career is at hand, in a form no one would have predicted. New legislation concerning the death penalty is on its way to his desk. If he signs it, the Sunshine State may embark on an official killing spree.
Florida has long stood out among the 50 states in its love of state-sponsored executions, running neck-and-neck with Texas. As far as sentencing, that is. Since the death penalty was reinstated by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1977, through 2010, 889 death sentences were handed down in Florida. But only 68 were carried out. Talk about government inefficiency.
Now, courtesy of the Florida GOP, we can vault to the front of the pack.
"Look How Tough We Are on Crime" "Timely Justice" Act turns the death penalty appeals process into a high-speed conveyor belt from the courtroom to the executioner's chamber: The time frame for appeals is limited. The governor has to sign death warrants within 30 days of their exhaustion. The knife must drop within 60 days after that.
As things now stand, Scott's office told the Palm Beach Post, the new law means the people of Florida will kill 13 current residents of death row within the next six months.
The bill's sponsor, Republican Joe Negron of Stuart, has said that some inmates linger on death row for more than 30 years and that each appeal costs taxpayers $1 million.
But Florida has exonerated 24 people who were on death row but ultimately found not guilty. That's more than any other state.
Forget morality. Forget decency. Think about what "Florida" will come to mean in the public mind: not only goofy to the point of absurdity, not just a demented melting pot of wretched excess and grinding poverty, but a paragon of knuckle-dragging indifference to enlightened justice. "Stand your ground" was bad enough. Now we have "execute 'em fast."
Don't expect a slow-motion state-sanctioned massacre to go unremarked by the world at large. Death penalty abolitionists have been on a roll lately, with the rest of the United States state-by-state banishing the hangman. But while victory is sweet, there's nothing like a high-profile slap in the face to galvanize a movement. Expect encampments of opponents to swarm Bradford County as the death trolley rolls on. Execution vigils make such great photo ops.
The response won't be confined to U.S. borders, either. In Europe and Canada, especially, whose tourists are a mainstay of the Florida economy, and where the death penalty -- along with the rack and the screw -- has been consigned to the dustbin of history, thoughts of the Sunshine State will be permanently darkened, with the same Gothic cloud that colors the world's perception -- fairly or not -- of, say, Mississippi. They have the burning cross and we have the oddly sterile, fatal injection.
The taste for retributive justice is a cultural thing. Here in Florida it's Old Testament, the strongest support in our Bible Belt: the Panhandle and along the I-4 corridor. (The new law's chief sponsor, Matt Gaetz, a total yahoo, bad teeth and all, showed just how depraved that mentality can be, cracking wise in debate that "Only God can judge, but we can sure set up the meeting." Har-de-har-har.)
State executions aren't just for Christians, though. In Iran and China, they're grounded in fundamentalist Islam and Communist totalitarianism. Great company.
Will Rick Scott sign off on the bill, and the flurry of executions to follow? He's a death penalty advocate, and his base of support is hard right, with a taste for blood. And enough Democrats, to their shame, voted for the bill (we're taking names) so he has political cover. The consequences won't be pretty.
Fire Ant -- an invasive species, tinged bright red, with an annoying, sometimes-fatal sting -- covers Palm Beach County. Got feedback or a tip? Contact Fire.Ant@BrowardPalmBeach.com.