The following article by Brad Rogers in the Ocala Star Banner explains a lot about our Florida government. No matter what we or our lawmakers may do, the bills that get passed depend on just five people, and they may not operate in the sunshine. Frustration abounds at times because an important bill gets squashed by just one of these men. They hold too much power and this system desperately needs changing.
Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life: once taken, it cannot be brought back-
Brad Rogers: Tyranny in Tallahassee
Posted Jul 2, 2017 at 2:01 AM
“No man’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session.” Those words, famously spoken by New York lawyer/newspaperman/politician Gideon J. Tucker are as humorous and true today as they were when he uttered them in 1866. Certainly the quip characterizes our own Florida Legislature, which can’t fulfill the people’s will (see Amendment 1), can’t get along (see this past session) and can’t get a host of critical public services up to snuff (see public schools, mental health and prisons).
What they can do, however, is pull off power grabs and serve individual and group special interests.
Consider the special session that just finished a couple weeks back. When it came down to it, our state leaders confirmed what insiders and observers have known all along. Florida government is essentially run by five people: the governor, the Senate president, the House speaker and the appropriations chairmen in each legislative chamber. Simply, they each have the power to stop legislation or a project on a whim, in a second, and they do just that. Heck, Gov. Rick Scott this year set a record for the most budget vetoes by a Florida governor. Some of those vetoes were aimed at saving money or preventing waste, some of them were aimed at sending a political message.
But it was in settling the budget that we saw the way the tyrants of Tallahassee work. While the other 156 state reps and senators sat around speculating what the final deal would be, Scott, Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, along with the appropriations chiefs, met in private, er, secret and hammered out a deal they could live with. Whether everyone else could live with it mattered not. Scott wanted money for tourism and economic development. He got it after the secret talks. Negron wanted money for Florida’s universities. He got it after the secret talks. Corcoran wanted an education bill that controversially boosts charter schools (his wife works for a charter school company). He got it after the secret talks.
Ask any legislator why they don’t get this done or that done and they will tell you — off the record — that nothing passes the Florida Legislature without the blessing of the House speaker and/or the Senate president. And should you decide to oppose either of those men on a bill, the wayward independent thinker will be punished by having one of his bills or projects suddenly scratched from the chamber’s agenda. Gone. Kaput. Adios.
So if you have ever wondered why, say, Sen. Dennis Baxley has never sponsored a major piece of water legislation, given the issue’s importance in our community, the answer is that on such issues bills are crafted only with the blessings of the speaker or the president. And again, it is rare for a lawmaker to go against leadership, even when doing so is in his or her community’s interest.
It’s a sorry state of affairs when elected representatives who are sent to do the people’s bidding are reduced to near irrelevance because the tyrants in charge are omnipotent.
I don’t know how we change the system. It is corrupt and it does not serve the best interests of Floridians. It certainly does not serve the Legislature itself, which undoubtedly has a wealth of human talent in its ranks that way to often goes untapped.
This should be a campaign issue in next year’s gubernatorial campaign. As for the sheep who call themselves lawmakers, grow a backbone. We need representation, not tyranny.