Tuesday, May 22, 2018
Politics

Carlton: Put down your phones in Tallahassee and represent us

Dear members of the Florida House of Representatives:

Hi. Just us, some of the people who elected you. If you have a minute, we were hoping to talk about some headlines this week.

Not the ones about the fate of the nation and all that. This is about those new rules Rep. Richard Corcoran, the Land O' Lakes Republican who is about to become House speaker, will have waiting for you when you get to Tallahassee.

We like some of the big ideas for taking a poke at cozy relationships between elected officials and those who lobby them — like not being allowed to come back as a lobbyist yourself after you leave office for six years instead of two, or the one where you can't fly on lobbyists' private planes even if you pay the commercial rate. (Seriously, do we need a rule to tell you how ugly the optics are on that one?)

But what really caught our eye was the one that says lobbyists won't be allowed to text or email you while you're up there legislating for us in committee meetings or floor sessions.

Now some of us citizens who do not regularly hang out in the hallowed halls of the Capitol might have been a little surprised to learn this actually happens — that powerful lobbyists representing special interests whose campaign checks you welcome might have your ear, or at least your eye on your cellphone screen, during committee meetings and floor debate.

Call us naive. It turns out some elected lawmakers take texts from lobbyists wanting them to ask a question about the issue at hand or suggesting they raise a point that could influence the outcome. Heck, we hear tell some of you have been known to read lobbyists' questions directly from your phones — and to text them with questions or to give them details of a vote.

By the way, aren't lobbyists by definition people — sometimes powerful people with access to deep pockets — who have a big interest in how things turn out up there?

Because from our view from the cheap seats in the hinterland, this starts to look a little like —wait, are those puppet strings?

Or maybe it's just another distasteful glimpse of how that special brand of Tallahassee sausage gets made.

People may argue this robs busy officials of technology, except technology will be there after the day is done. Maybe you'll have to resort to old-school ways — a guy in the audience, wink for yes, tug of the tie for no. He could even use that ominous draw-a-finger-across-the-throat move once alleged at a Tampa City Council meeting!

Sorry, a little citizen cynicism there.

Corcoran says the rules are about bolstering ethical standards, public confidence and civility — about "cleaning up our own House," as he put it.

And, yes, some people wonder how enforceable this might be. We get that lobbyists could just use staff members to do the texting for them, if you're willing to take those texts. Sigh.

But as our representatives, maybe you could do us a favor and honor a rule against communicating with business, industry and other groups that want something from you when you're — technically, at least — working for us.

Sincerely,

Some Florida voters

Sue Carlton can be reached at [email protected]

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