June 16, 2021

Lighting kerfuffle comes to Tallahassee with no orange at old Capitol

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Gun control advocates have no explanation why they couldn’t get the old Capitol lit in orange.

In the wake of LGBTQ+ community outrage over the turning off of Pride Month rainbow lighting on bridges in Jacksonville and Sarasota, gun control advocates now say the state blocked lighting the Historic Capitol building in orange to honor gun violence victims. 

The Department of Management Services (DMS), which manages state buildings and reports to Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, ignored a request for orange lights at the Capitol on National Gun Violence Awareness Day, which was last Friday.  

News of that inaction came after the Department of Transportation, also under DeSantis, ordered rainbow lighting shut off this week on Jacksonville’s Acosta bridge because there was no “permit” that allowed such lighting. It also denied a request by Sarasota officials to light the Ringling Bridge in rainbow colors. 

“I think they’re just doing it based on code. I don’t think they’re getting involved in any messaging on that,” DeSantis said of DOT officials when asked at an event in Sarasota Friday. “You’ll have to talk to (them). I’m not involved in bridge lighting.”

But gun control advocates have yet to get any explanation about why they couldn’t get the old Capitol illuminated in orange.

In Jacksonville: JTA lit the Acosta Bridge in rainbow colors for Pride. A day later, it changed it back

In Sarasota: State denies Sarasota plan to light Ringling Causeway in rainbow for Pride Month

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Orange lights in honor of shooting victim Hadiya Pendleton

Moms Demand Action, the Florida affiliate of Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun control advocacy nonprofit formed in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, asked Agriculture Commissioner and Democratic candidate for governor Nikki Fried to make the Capitol lighting request with DMS.  

“The request suddenly went from, you know, ‘sure,’ and being in process, to no one would even return emails or phone calls,” said Franco Ripple, spokesman for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which Fried leads. 

Ripple said the sudden silence gave the impression a decision had been made to “deny” the lighting request.

DMS spokeswoman Rose Hebert, in a statement, said there were actually two separate requests: “Everytown for Gun Safety submitted a request on April 1, 2021, to light the Historic Capitol for National Gun Violence Awareness Day.”

“For at least the last five years, Everytown for Gun Safety has requested and secured space for this purpose regardless of whether or not they were ultimately able to hire and pay a vendor to light the Historic Capitol,” she added. 

Fried’s department submitted its own request “after close of business on Tuesday, June 1.” They were informed Everytown already had a request in but said “they would be submitting a request anyway.”

“This is the first request from (Fried’s office) to light the Historic Capitol for National Gun Violence Awareness Day,” Hebert said. Her department “is familiar with DMS’ reservation process as they have previously secured space for every reservation request they have submitted.”

Hebert, however, did not explain why the orange lights were ultimately not turned on at the old Capitol. 

The color orange was adopted in 2015 to remember 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, who was gunned down on a Chicago playground. Later, groups like Everytown began illuminating landmarks and historic buildings in orange on the first weekend in June to remember the lives lost to guns.

It is an annual tribute; cities from Pasadena, California, to Savannah, Georgia, lit up landmarks and buildings this year. According to the Gun Violence Archive, so far this year in Florida 22 people have died and another 111 injured in 18 mass shootings.  

The group, a band of independent data researchers not affiliated with any advocacy organization, also counts 7,258 Florida gun deaths as of Thursday June 10, and a total of 12,192 injuries in 2021.

Two of those shootings, which resulted in six deaths, occurred in south Florida last weekend, when Moms Demand Action wanted the Capitol illuminated in orange light to acknowledge lives lost to gun violence.

And in Tallahassee, just one week after a 7-year-old was shot on South Adams Street, the Tallahassee Police Department was investigating another incident of gunfire that injured a child. The child sustained minor injuries, and there are currently no suspects.

Fried had the Capitol bathed in orange in 2019 and earlier this year on the anniversary of the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school attack that killed 17 students and staff. 

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“Politics, plain and simple”

Ripple attributes what happened with the old Capitol to “politics, plain and simple.” Fried and DeSantis have feuded the past year over coronavirus policies, among other issues.

When Fried announced as a Democratic candidate for governor, DeSantis dismissed the challenge. 

“She does nothing. All she does is emote on social media (and) virtue signal to small dollar donors in California and New York,” DeSantis said about Fried, the day after the Commissioner had announced her candidacy and the day before DMS stopped responding about the lighting request.

Gainesville Moms Demand Action volunteer Jenna Preble said she regrets if politics prevented the old Capitol’s orange lighting: “Honoring gun violence victims is not a partisan issue, it’s a moral imperative,” said Preble, among those who asked Fried to submit the request.  

Undaunted, Fried countered by illuminating the Mayo Building in orange, which is across the street from the Capitol and controlled by her department. Other buildings she controls in Tallahassee also were lit. 

The only Democrat elected to statewide office, Fried has said the governor has “his head in the sand” on the issue of gun violence.

Ripple added: “When the wheels of government are broken because of petty, partisan differences, it’s really a disservice to Floridians and it’s the people’s business that suffers.” 

Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune contributed. James Call is a member of the USA TODAY NETWORK-Florida Capital Bureau. He can be reached at jcall@tallahassee.com. Follow on him Twitter: @CallTallahassee

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