A tumultuous year is finally capped

Orlando, Fla. (AP) – Florida started 2019 with a young new governor taking the reins of state government and finished the year with two tragic shootings at either end of the state.

In between, Floridians argued over how to get voting rights restored to as many as 1.4 million convicted felons and followed the legal sagas on sex charges of two of the state’s richest homeowners. Floridians watched as President Donald Trump joined them in making the Sunshine States his permanent residence and puzzled at how two Chinese nationals, months apart, gained access to his Florida club, Mar-a-Lago.

After taking office in January, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis did many things that his predecessor, now Republican U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, hadn’t during his eight years as governor. DeSantis used the once-rarely-uttered-in-Florida-government words “climate change“ in a state that is one of the most vulnerable to rising sea levels. DeSantis also broke with his predecessor and appointed a science officer, established a climate change czar and pledged to spend billions of dollars to restore the Everglades and combat the pollutants that spawn blue-green algae and red tides. Floridians seemed to like their new governor, giving the him high approval ratings in his first year in office.

Floridians, or at least their elected officials, were less agreeable on how felons should get their voting rights restored. Florida voters last year approved a constitutional amendment restoring the voting rights of felons who complete their sentences. But DeSantis earlier this year signed a Republican-sponsored bill requiring that legal financial obligations be met before voting rights are restored. Civil rights groups challenged the law, arguing placing financial requirements on the right to vote violates the U.S. Constitution. In a state where political races are won by the smallest of margins, the outcome could affect next year’s presidential election.

Two of Florida’s wealthiest homeowners were caught up in criminal sex charges. New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft was charged with a misdemeanor for allegedly paying for sex at a massage parlor in South Florida. He has pleaded not guilty but issued a public apology. Financier Jeffrey Epstein was arrested in New York and was awaiting trial on charges he sexually abused teenage girls at his Manhattan mansion and a Florida home when he was found dead in his jail cell in August. New York City’s medical examiner ruled Epstein’s death a suicide.