Romano: The moral corruption of Florida politicians

Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R- Land O' Lakes and Florida Senate President Joe Negron, R- Stuart, talk on the floor of the House during a joint session of the Florida Legislature in January. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R- Land O' Lakes and Florida Senate President Joe Negron, R- Stuart, talk on the floor of the House during a joint session of the Florida Legislature in January. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]
Published March 1

In times like these, you often hear Florida’s Legislature described as tone-deaf. I’m sorry, but that’s a sadly charitable portrayal.

Calling lawmakers tone-deaf implies they don’t understand the current mood surrounding them. I think they fully understand it. They just choose to ignore it.

Take a moment to consider what’s happened in recent days:

• Committees in both the House and the Senate refused to advance plans to ban assault weapons in Florida, even as polls indicated that public support runs about 2-to-1 in favor of such bans.

• A Senate committee chairman has effectively buried a bill that would toughen texting-while-driving laws, another idea with wide support among the public.

• An unpopular plan that singles out teachers unions for decertification was removed from a bill last week, and then abruptly added back by a Senate committee Tuesday.

• Senate and House committees also approved a plan to arm teachers on campus, despite opposition from the Florida PTA, part of the nation’s largest student advocacy program.

So to recap:

Teachers with guns? Good.

Teachers with unions? Bad.

These are not isolated cases. They’re part of a yearslong pattern of Tallahassee politicians focused more on their ambitions and campaign accounts than the people they serve.

In that sense, it’s not a stretch to call them corrupt. Perhaps not in the legal sense of the word, but morally, and otherwise, they have corrupted their mission as public servants.

Even if you think they are truly following their hearts, there is still the repeated problem of ignoring what their constituents are saying. In essence, they are suggesting they know what’s best for you.

Take the union decertification issue. This is an idea that has floated around Tallahassee for six years, and yet the original sponsor of the bill acknowledged in a committee meeting that he has never received a single phone call from a teacher asking for this legislation.

Basically, the bill says any union that does not get dues from at least 50 percent of its members will be dissolved. This flies in the face of Florida’s status as a "right to work" state in which employees cannot be compelled to join a union. The Legislature is also not trying to enforce this provision on any other state employee union.

Yet, despite no visible support from any educational group, it was laughably presented as a way to empower teachers.

"If you are going to speak for a group of people, there should be an indication that you represent a majority of these workers," said Sen. Dennis Baxley, who reintroduced the amendment Tuesday. "If that’s not true, there’s a question of legitimacy of that representation."

That’s an interesting sentiment considering 11 of the 20 members of the committee that approved this amendment ran unopposed in their last election. That means they are representing hundreds of thousands of voters without having received a single vote.

(That would include Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, and Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, who both voted in favor of the amendment.)

So how do legislators get away with this kind of nonsense?

A lot of it has to do with districts that are drawn in a way that favors one party over another. A lot of it has to do with voters who do not pay attention and give elected officials a free pass.

And a lot of it has to do with politicians trading favors in the final days of the legislative session.

The teachers union provision is high on House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s list, and that means Senate President Joe Negron is willing to sell out teachers in order to get what he wants from the House.

It’s ugly. It’s corrupt. It’s Florida.

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