Pensacola, Florida
Sunday September 23rd 2018

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Protesting “Pathetic” Comments

By Rick Outzen

On March 24, attorney Randy Thompson and his wife and daughters parked on Wright Street near their church, First United Methodist Church. Along with their fellow church members, they joined Pensacola’s March For Our Lives rally to protest the gun violence in this country and to tell elected officials they wanted changes in our gun laws.

That same morning, County Commissioner Doug Underhill took to Facebook to criticize the rally participants.

He wrote, “Good morning to all you marchers. You are wrong. My gun is not your problem, and my rights are not your business. Your fears and your hate are a very real danger to our Constitution. You are literally spending your Saturday demanding the government take away your rights. Pathetic.”

During the county commission’s public forum on Thursday, April 5, Thompson called out Underhill.

“One of your members before the march ever started publicly called my daughters, my wife, my church family and me a danger to our Constitution, a threat to our nation. Pathetic, miscreants,” said the attorney. “I am here today asking that this board as a body publicly censure Commissioner Doug Underhill for his outrageous comments.”

Censure is a formal expression of disapproval of a member by a legislative body. It has no legal ramifications. The Board of County Commissioners has never censured one of its members, but Thompson believed Underhill’s words deserved such action.

“After the great strides that this community has made, to have an elected official publicly defame, slander and bully citizens whose opinions he does not agree with is unfathomable to me,” said Thompson. “It undermines Pensacola’s progress. It does not encourage businesses to relocate to this community. It does not encourage my daughters to come back to Pensacola.”

Facing the commissioner, he continued, “Commissioner Underhill, surely you are not so obtuse as to understand that the March For Our Lives is not just about gun control. It’s about school safety. It’s about more mental health. It is about universal background checks. It is about, for some of us, restricting assault weapons in our country.”

He pointed out that marches have occurred in the past. Thompson asked, “Commissioner Underhill, when Mothers Against Drunk Drivers took their surviving kids and spent their Saturdays and marched to take away the rights of 18-year-olds to drink alcohol and buy it, did you call them pathetic?”

The attorney was cut off by a buzzer as his time limit expired. Commissioner Underhill asked Chairman Jeff Bergosh to “give him as much time as he likes.”

Bergosh allowed Thompson to end his statement. He said, “All I’m asking is that this commission as a board take whatever action is necessary so that my request for a public censure can be moved on to the next agenda.”

The crowd applauded the attorney when he returned to his seat. He was followed by Melissa Pino, who lives in Underhill’s district. She said she showed up for the same reason as Thompson, even though she didn’t know he would be attending.

“I have never in my life been to a political march,” Pino said. “I’ve never even held a sign on a public street before, but last Saturday, I went down and marched on the opening of Commissioner Underhill’s headquarters. My sign read, ‘Pro-gun ownership, pro-civility, pro-miscreants.’ There is simply no place in public discourse for the kind of venom that has been emitting from the District 2 office these days.”

The March 31 event was called the “Protest Pathetic Doug Underhill” march. One of the organizers, 19-year-old Taylor Smith, explained why she organized the protest.

“We want to make our presence known,” Smith said. “I believe his comments were unbecoming of an elected official. (Protesting) is our First Amendment right.”

At the public forum, Pino accused Underhill of “annihilating my character, issuing emails out of the District 2 address calling me a liar and encouraging people to post it on public media forums.”

Pino said, “This culminated outside of a Women for Responsible Legislation voters’ forum with Commissioner Underhill informing me that I am a carpetbagger that moved down here from the North to the South to spit on the values of this community.”

She supported Thompson’s call for a censure vote.

“I didn’t even know that such a thing was possible, a censure,” said Pino. “I’d like to second, if there is such an apparatus, to officially censor Mr. Underhill.”

Larry Downs, Jr. came to Underhill’s defense. He said the commissioner had not called the protesters pathetic, only the march itself.

“I believe it is pathetic,” Downs said. “The definition of ‘pathetic’ doesn’t mean anything derogatory. I would assume that’s okay in most terms, or most times, but today everybody seems to be over sensitive, I guess.”

Downs must have missed Underhill’s additional Facebook comments where he called the students protesting, “Pathetically misled children. Teach them civics, and take them to the range and teach them how to exercise their Constitutional responsibility to be armed, trained and disciplined.”

The commissioner also called Emma Gonzalez, one of the survivors of the Parkland, Fla., shooting, a “cute little insurgent” and an “uninformed miscreant and threat to our nation.”

At the meeting, Underhill did not respond to his critics. He didn’t write about protesters or Thompson’s call of censure on his Facebook page over the weekend. A supporter did post on the page, “We are proud of you, Doug Underhill, and we stand behind you,” which 10 people liked.

Underhill replied, “Thank you for the support! We are having such phenomenally positive response across the District.”

According to an Inweekly/Political Matrix poll of 399 likely voters in Escambia County District 2, conducted between April 6 and April 7, few agreed with the commissioner’s statements. Only 33 percent agreed with Underhill’s calling the participants of the March For Our Lives rallies “pathetic.” Even fewer agreed with him using “little monsters” to describe the survivors of the Parkland, Fla., shooting who joined the rallies—22 percent.

District 2 voters were also asked whether they believed the people who participated in the March For Our Lives rally were unpatriotic. Over 57 percent said no. Only 27 percent believed the participants were unpatriotic.

The study also found that District 2 voters support gun reforms. When it comes to raising the age from 18 to 21 for the purchasing of all guns, 54 percent of the district agreed with this idea, while 39 percent disagreed. Nearly 78 percent agreed with a three-day waiting period for all gun purchases. When asked the question regarding the banning of the future sales of AR-15 rifles, 52 percent agreed with the idea, while 42 percent disagreed.

The District 2 responses were more conservative than those in a March 13-16 statewide poll conducted by Inweekly and Political Matrix but were still positive for the reforms. In the statewide poll, 59 percent agreed with banning future sales of AR-15 rifles in Florida. Huge percentages of voters favored raising the age to purchase all guns to 21 (66 percent) and imposing a three-day waiting period on all gun purchases (84 percent).