Lucy Morgan column: Florida politicians never learn
Lucy Morgan, retired state capital bureau chief and senior correspondent for the Tampa Bay Times, wrote a column exclusively for the Times about the King Ranch stories. She doesn't mince words. An excerpt:
You might think our elected officials could learn from their mistakes.
But time and time again they display a brand of stupidity — and arrogance — that seems to haunt the state capital.
When I went to Tallahassee at the end of 1985 to cover the governor and Legislature, it wasn't long before I began to notice the splendid treatment legislators and some governors got from lobbyists, especially the lobbyists who worked for the state's major corporate interests.
Back then, there was little attempt to hide that lobbyists were providing food, drinks, airplane flights and other perks to leaders in both political parties. Hunting trips to posh preserves in Georgia, Texas, Mexico and other places were common. No lawmaker had to hire a bartender or a cook or someone to carry his bags from the airport. Eager lobbyists stepped forward to fill any need.
When former Agriculture Commissioner Doyle Conner staged an annual trail ride for lawmakers outside Tallahassee, lobbyists joined the party and provided recreational vehicles for legislative leaders so they wouldn't be inconvenienced by the need to find a bathroom or bar in the woods.
In those early days it was a crime, a misdemeanor, to accept gifts valued at more than $25 without reporting them annually. We started taking notes of the visible perks. No one was shocked when we wrote that lobbyists, who were required to report gifts they gave to legislators, reported giving far more than lawmakers reported receiving.
Legislators acted quickly. They eliminated the criminal penalty. Can't say they don't act quickly when they see a need!