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Wednesday, Oct 22, 2014
Steve Otto Columns

Otto: Helen Gordon Davis blazed trails for Florida women

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Published:   |   Updated: July 21, 2013 at 01:13 PM

On Wednesday evening an organization called "Ruth's List Florida'' will be hosting a reception honoring former state Sen. Helen Gordon Davis.

It's a big deal, with Rep. Kathy Castor on hand along with hosts who pretty much cover the women's political spectrum around here, including Yvonne Yolie Capin, Mary Mulhern and Lisa Montelione from the Tampa City Council and names such as former Mayor Sandy Freedman, and legislators including Betty Reed and Janet Cruz, University of South Florida historian Doris Weatherford and governor-in-waiting Alex Sink.

Ruth's List is a Democratic, pro-choice, women's fund-raising organization, which makes it interesting because the event is being held at the Palma Ceia Golf and Country Club.

There was a time not that many years ago when several of those causes that led Davis to become the first woman from Hillsborough County elected to the Florida House of Representatives would have prohibited her from even being allowed into the private club.

As Weatherford pointed out, when Helen and her late husband Gene first moved to Tampa in the early 1940s, they would not have been welcomed at the club because of their Jewish faith.

All of that has changed and it was Davis who was responsible for so much important legislation, in particular her work in both the House and Senate on behalf of abused women.

I have to say my favorite piece of legislation, and again this comes from Weatherford, was something called the "potty parity bill.''

It used to be, apparently, that if you were a woman and needed to use public facilities, you had to have a dime to get into a stall. Men, of course, didn't need to always use a stall and got to relieve themselves for free.

In 1972, then-Sen. Davis stood up to thank the Senate for unanimously passing legislation changing all of that and said, "Thank you for standing up to allow women to sit down.''

Mermaid rights

Finally, on a related subject, don't you wonder if there are any legislators willing to take a stand on the rights of mermaids to swim in local pools?

The mermaid in question is one Jenna Conti, who goes aquatically by the name of Eden Sirene.

Recently, sporting a blue silicone tail, Sirene has been swimming around in the pools of FishHawk Ranch, a mammoth development near Brandon.

Like most developments and gated communities these days, there is an association that tells you what you can and cannot do, such as what color to paint your house or what kind of vehicles you can park in your driveway.

In this instance the Community Development District (CDD), which is what this particular crowd is called, got wind of a mermaid on the loose in one of its pools.

Although not listed on the endangered species list, you just don't see that many mermaids south of Weeki Wachee anymore. Nevertheless, the CDD banned Ms. Sirene from the pool, saying it had a rule against fins in its water.

Having seen photos of the mermaid, I'd love to see a popular vote taken on letting her in the pool. Otherwise, I'll just start walking up and down the Bayshore hoping to see Eden Sirene or one of her sisters flapping away in the bay. I'll bring along a rod and reel.

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