Romano: Con artist or Florida politician? You decide

Banners along South Adams Street welcome Florida lawmakers back to Tallahassee for the start of the 2017 legislative session. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
Banners along South Adams Street welcome Florida lawmakers back to Tallahassee for the start of the 2017 legislative session. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]
Published August 16
Updated August 16

Decorum matters, and so the attorney’s language was appropriately measured.

In seeking to have a constitutional amendment thrown off the ballot, a motion filed in Leon County used words such as "misleading’’ and "ambiguity’’ and "wordsmithing.’’

That’s the polite and lawyerly way to go.

If, on the other hand, you explained this case to a roomful of everyday voters, I’m guessing they would have used words such as "dishonest’’ and "shady’’ and "bogus.’’

Welcome to the ballot initiative known as Amendment 8, or A Scam That Could Make A Street Hustler Blush. And (insert shocked face) it was sponsored, planned and perpetrated by the folks running this fine state.

Now, the legitimacy of this proposed constitutional amendment will be debated in the 2nd Judicial District on Friday, but that’s a legal distinction. Here in the real world, there is no doubt.

This was a plan to shift oversight of charter schools from local districts and hand it over to the charter-loving, and often charter-profiting, politicians in Tallahassee.

And here’s what they called their proposed amendment:

School Board Term Limits and Duties; Public Schools.

Hmm, doesn’t that seem ridiculously sneaky?

A lot of people think so, including the former chief of the state Supreme Court who has asked the court to consider throwing out a half-dozen similarly deceptive amendments. The League of Women Voters was also disgusted by this charade and filed the motion that will be heard on Friday.

This was all brought on by the Constitution Revision Commission, a clown show of epic dimensions, which was responsible for eight, mostly duplicitous, amendments on the November ballot.

Usually proposed amendments must follow very strict guidelines about using plain language and being limited to a single topic. The CRC, which meets every 20 years, gets a little more leeway.

And in this case, they abused it horribly. In two different ways.

First, they took a couple of ideas they thought would be popular with voters — term limits for school board members and making civics class a requirement in schools — and bundled them with the charter plan. The court motion even quotes CRC commissioner Don Gaetz saying his civics proposal "will help some of those other education issues pass’’ if they were bundled together.

"It’s like they’ve given us a package with three different Life Savers. Two of them are sweet, and one is really sour. But if you want any candy at all, you have to eat all three,’’ said League of Women Voters of Florida president Patricia Brigham. "Much of the public will not see this for what it is.’’

Second, the CRC used language wrapped in deception and shrouded in bull. The title of the amendment makes no mention about stripping local school districts of authority. And nowhere in the amendment is the term "charter school’’ used, even though everyone knows it is the entire purpose of the proposal.

If this doesn’t make you angry, you might want to check your pulse.

I don’t care how you feel about charter schools — love ’em, hate ’em, or somewhere in between — because this is not about that. This is about your own government trying to trick you.

We don’t allow charlatans to mislead senior citizens in financial matters, and we shouldn’t allow politicians to mislead voters on important issues.

Florida legislators, and former Gov. Jeb Bush, tried to sneak past a similar law in 2006 and it was ruled unconstitutional by the courts. So this time, they’re trying to actually change the state Constitution.

And that’s fine. The CRC has that ability.

But if their proposal is such a great idea, they need to explain it fully. And they need to let it stand on its own. Tell the voters what is, tell them what it does, and then let them decide.

Instead, your state leaders tried to fool you with a sneaky amendment and loads of double-talk.

And that makes them no different than any other type of con artist.

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