With women representing better than 50 percent of the population in Florida, it’s not very smart for a politician of the opposite sex to cast himself as sexist or a misogynist.
Particularly if you are a Democrat.
While it’s normal for freshmen legislators to experience a bit of a learning curve during their first year in office, state Rep. Mike Clelland, D-Lake Mary, may have pushed beyond the limits of acceptability Tuesday with a disparaging comment about women’s weight.
Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, put forth an amendment to SB 1410: Fire Safety and Prevention, which would put in place a body mass index (BMI) requirement for fire fighters.
Clelland, a former firefighter, rose to question the amendment, asking Adkins if she was aware that firefighters were already required to be “in good physical condition.” She replied that she understood that they had to take an agility test.
After a short exchange about how the law would work, Clelland asked, amidst gasps from the room: “Rep. Adkins, do you know that females are notoriously, ugh.. that they carry a higher BMI than males?”
In other words, he suggested that women are “notoriously” fatter than men.
As laughter rang out, Clelland was quickly admonished with the reminder “not notoriously,” and asked to rephrase the question “for your safety.” To which he asked how the law would be applied based on gender.
While some found humor in Clelland’s inappropriate remarks, Adkins was not amused. In fact, she crafted a letter asking him for a public apology and copied Speaker Will Weatherford.
Adkins wrote, in part: “Your disparagement of women and use of gender in debate was offensive. I believe that the women of Florida deserve the respect and dignity that should be afforded to all people regardless of race, creed or gender.”
A copy of the letter in its entirety:
April 30, 2013
The Honorable Mike Clelland
Florida House Representative
1301 The Capitol
402 South Monroe Street
Tallahassee, Florida 32399
This letter is to call upon you to make a public apology for your inappropriate remarks on the floor yesterday during the debate regarding amendment 485525 to SB 1410. I would have expected that the admonishment by Representative Hooper regarding your remarks should have been enough to elicit an appropriate apology at the time of the offense. Your disparagement of women and use of gender in debate was offensive. I believe that the women of Florida deserve the respect and dignity that should be afforded to all people regardless of race, creed or gender.
There is broad public policy interest in the fitness of the professional fire fighter ranks and the impact this has on performance, how duties are assigned and the impact on local counties and municipalities relative to healthcare and disability costs.
I am concerned that the younger professional fire fighters are being asked to perform the most risky assignments quite simply because not everyone on the team is physically able to perform equally. This situation needlessly places people at risk and imposes higher costs on municipalities and counties. I have detailed some links below for your use as we continue this policy discussion on how Florida can ensure all Professional Fire Fighters are treated equally.
Every day we have the honor to serve in the Florida House of Representatives, we must measure up to the integrity and character of the citizens who have sent us here. Our debate and use of words should reflect the character and integrity of the great people whom we strive to serve.
I look forward to working with you and other members to improve the health, safety and well-being of Florida’s Professional Fire Fighters and ask that we keep our focus on the public policy questions rather than debate that undermines women.
I await your public apology to the women of Florida.
Janet H. Adkins
CC Speaker Will Weatherford