Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Florida House to judge former speaker Ray Sansom — and itself

The rule book of the Florida House of Representatives begins with a partial quote from Ecclesiastes 10:4:

Calmness can lay great errors to rest.

This morning in Tallahassee, the House turns to judging its former speaker, Ray Sansom. As to whether any "great errors" will be laid "to rest," we'll see.

Today's hearing will deal mostly with preliminaries. Sansom has asked the House to wait for his criminal trial, scheduled for September.

The delay is fair. Sansom is a citizen accused of a crime. The government should not be able to drag him first through a political proceeding in the House and then use whatever he might say there at his criminal trial.

Sooner or later, though, the House is going to have to judge its own — and by extension, judge itself.

When Sansom, R-Destin, sent $6 million in disguise toward a community college in his district to build an aircraft hangar sought by an influential developer …

When Sansom was complicit in holding a "public" meeting of that school's trustees 150 miles from home …

When Sansom was hired by the school, Northwest Florida State College, for an unadvertised, $110,000-a-year job on the day he became speaker …

When Sansom helped the school get more than $8 million for a "leadership institute" that was, in turn, to be under his supervision …

Were those things, you know, wrong? More specifically, did they damage the public's "faith and confidence" in the Florida House?

(Here, it's tempting to propose a smart-aleck defense for Sansom: You can't damage public confidence in the Legislature 'cause there ain't any. There! I look forward to getting my consultant's check from the defense team.)

If Sansom is convicted in the criminal case, it's hard to see how the House could avoid some sort of sanction. He could be fined, censured, reprimanded, placed on probation or expelled.

But if he's acquitted, the House will still be under tremendous pressure: Anything that looks like a whitewash will create a public-opinion backlash and could even become an election issue.

And yet, exactly how the committee gets to a finding against Sansom is an interesting problem. What, exactly, will they punish him for?

Sneaking items into the budget? Getting a job because he's a legislator? That doesn't go on all the time? It requires a finding of "You did the same thing as a lot of people, except you were crass and stupid, and now we are going to pretend you are worse than we are."

The thing is, a lot of members of the Legislature don't think Sansom did anything wrong. The whole outfit, and the House in particular, has been silent throughout the revelations, the investigation, the indictment and a critical grand jury report. There is a lot more "poor Ray" than there is outrage.

And yet, the House rules place an individual burden on each member:

By personal example and by admonition to colleagues whose behavior may threaten the honor of the lawmaking body, the member shall watchfully guard the responsibility of office and the responsibilities and duties placed on the member by the House.

Starting today, we will see how seriously they take the "admonition to colleagues" part. Not to dispute the Old Testament, but it's going to take more than "calmness" for the House to lay this to rest.

Florida House to judge former speaker Ray Sansom — and itself 08/03/09 [Last modified: Friday, August 7, 2009 2:35pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Trigaux: For Class of 2016, college debt loads favor Florida graduates

    Banking

    Florida college graduates saddled with student debt: Take heart. The average debt Class of 2016 Florida grads must bear is less than students in most states.

    University of South Florida undergraduates gather at the USF Sun Dome in Tampa for last fall's commencement ceremony. A new survey finds their average student debt upon graduating was $22,276. Statewide, 2016 Florida grads ranked a relatively unencumbered 45th among states, averaging $24,461 in student debt. [Photo Luis Santana | Times]
  2. Romano: One person, one vote is not really accurate when it comes to Florida

    Politics

    Imagine this:

    Your mail-in ballot for the St. Petersburg mayoral election has just arrived. According to the fine print, if you live on the west side of the city, your ballot will count as one vote. Meanwhile, a ballot in St. Pete's northeast section counts for three votes.

    Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections worker Andrea West adds mail ballots to an inserter Sept. 22 at the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Service Center in Largo. (SCOTT KEELER   |   Times)
  3. St. Petersburg will hold first budget hearing tonight

    Local Government

    ST. PETERSBURG — The Sunshine City's new property tax rate looks exactly like its current rate. For the second year in a row, Mayor Rick Kriseman does not plan to ask City Council for a tax hike or a tax cut.

    Mayor Rick Kriseman talks about the state of the city on Tuesday, two days after Hiurricane Irma passed through the state. [EVE EDELHEIT   |   Times]
  4. 'We were lucky': Zephyrhills, Dade City get back to normal after Irma

    Hurricanes

    Two weeks after Hurricane Irma struck Florida, residents and city officials in eastern Pasco — hit harder than other areas of the county — are moving forward to regain normalcy.

    Edward F. Wood, 70, tugs at a branch to unload a pile of debris he and his wife picked up in their neighborhood, Lakeview in the Hills in Dade City.
  5. After Hurricane Irma, many ask: How safe are shelters?

    News

    NAPLES — Residents of the Naples Estates mobile home park beamed and cheered when President Donald Trump and Gov. Rick Scott strolled amid piles of shredded aluminum three days after Hurricane Irma to buck up residents and hail the work of emergency responders. But almost nobody had anything good to say about …

    The Islamic Society of Tampa Bay Area opened its doors to anyone seeking temporary shelter during Hurricane Irma. Evacuees were housed in the Istaba multipurpose building and was quickly at capacity housing over 500 people. [Saturday, September 9, 2017] [Photo Luis Santana | Times]