It was a startling statement that had the same resonance as ex-Congressman Todd Akins’ statement about “legitimate rape” 14 months ago and Texas Congressman Michael Burgess’ opposition to abortion because, he claims, fetuses masturbate at 15 weeks. (Akins and Burgess are conservative Republicans.)
This time the statement was made by Florida’s Dennis Baxley, a Republican member of the Florida House who represents the Ocala region and who, until now, counted Florida’s Stand Your Ground law among his signature achievements. He was among its authors in 2005. After the Newtown school massacre, Baxley proposed eliminating Florida’s ban on guns in schools.
Baxley, a 61-year-old funeral director with a psychology degree from Florida State, and a Southern Baptist who lists listening to gospel music among his recreational interests, chairs the House Judiciary Committee and is a member of the Education Committee’s K-12 subcommittee. On Tuesday, the subcommittee met for a discussion on reforms in middle grades. Talk turned to parental involvement. Baxley turned to theorizing.
“It’s easy to say parents need to get involved, but half these kids are raising themselves,” he said, “they don’t have any parents that are functional. How can we address that? I know its scope and I know it’s hard, but you’re probably their only hope. ”
He then lumped together the children of alcoholics, drug addicts and abusers with the children of lesbian parents: “I mean I sat an hour and a half with a teacher telling me, well this child has got serial men coming through the house, this one has two mommy’s, this one has abusive father whose home, this has alcoholism, this one has drug abuse. It was a casualty warfare event to hear – just her classroom – how many dysfunctional, atypical – to me – uh, structures are in the way of a kid having a chance to learn.”
The statement was flagged by Equality Florida, the lesbian, gay and transgender rights organization. Equality Florida has requested a meeting with Baxley.
“We hope Representative Baxley has the decency to apologize for his comments disparaging gay parents and our children,” Nadine Smith, CEO of Equality Florida, said in a statement. “More than that, we invite Representative Baxley to educate himself, talk with us and actually meet our families. We are a diverse state, and no elected official can fulfill their oath of office if they only respect and care about the people and families that look just like their own. The entire child welfare community, every credible agency and all research, are unanimous in recognizing that gay parents are equally capable of raising children and that our kids do just as well as their classmates.”
Baxley considers himself a compassionate father. “As an adoptive father and former foster parent,” Baxley wrote on his Facebook page on Oct. 2, “the children in our community are very important to me. It’s a privilege to serve on the board of the Marion County Children’s Alliance and discuss what we can do to protect and serve children.”
But his extremism has been part of his portfolio. “You think you’d have to be a contortionist to get to the right of Rick Scott, but I think Dennis Baxley has done that,” Damien Filer, political director of Progress Florida, a Tallahassee-based progressive group, told the Ocala Star Banner in describing Baxley’s philosophy.