Sansom resignation helps Tallahassee, not the public

Ray Sansom, the former speaker of our state House, was supposed to go before a House committee on Monday to determine whether he had broken the rules and should be punished.

But on the eve of his hearing, Sansom neatly solved the whole matter by resigning as a state representative. (He had previously stepped aside as speaker.)

No House member left to punish, no case.

At least that was the position taken by the committee, which met Monday morning and promptly dropped the whole affair as "moot."

Moot!

And that's right in a narrow and procedural sense. The committee's job was to recommend a punishment for Sansom as a fellow House member. Now he isn't one.

But in a broader sense …

In a broader sense, this means that the House is able to simply wash its hands of the indictment of its own former presiding officer, and a critical grand jury report that called the entire Legislature onto the carpet.

Sansom, formerly R-Destin, still faces separate criminal charges and a possible case at the state Ethics Commission for his close dealings with a college in his district.

But in the House itself, where an investigator found probable cause that Sansom had damaged public "faith and confidence" — presto, change-o! It disappears.

A little part of me is glad. The thing had gotten totally political.

We learned that the Democratic Party helped the citizen who filed a complaint against Sansom. This doesn't change whether what Sansom did was wrong, but it seems … tacky. This is about the integrity of the Legislature and, as crazy as you think I am to say it, separate from politics.

It also seemed that Sansom's hearings were going to be a tool for trying to embarrass people. Principally among them was Marco Rubio, now a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate. Rubio who was House speaker when his then-lieutenant Sansom was doing some of what got him in trouble.

Even on Monday, after the House case was dropped, Gov. Charlie Crist, Rubio's rival in the Republican Senate primary, was playing a game of "What did Rubio know, and when did he know it?" (Since Crist himself approved some of the things Sansom got into the state budget, this seems a bit pot-and-kettle-ish.)

And so Sansom's resignation gets everybody in Tallahassee off the hook. He has one less case to worry about. The House is spared the painful task of judging him and itself. The Republican leadership is spared embarrassment in a campaign year. So is Rubio.

Yep, everybody benefits.

Except the public.

• • •

In this fantasy I have, the current speaker of the House, Larry Cretul, makes an announcement saying:

"Although the individual case against Ray Sansom is over, this painful episode has cast a shadow over the integrity of this House. Not only was probable cause found to investigate his actions, but a grand jury of Florida citizens has strongly criticized the way we do business.

"Therefore, I am naming a new select committee to consider what went wrong in the Sansom case and to make recommendations for changing the procedures and rules of the House to prevent such episodes in the future, and to restore public confidence in the honor of this chamber."

Like I said, a fantasy.

Sansom resignation helps Tallahassee, not the public 02/22/10 [Last modified: Monday, February 22, 2010 7:12pm]

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