Tuesday, January 16, 2018
Politics

State Rep. Schenck's star rises by helping businesses

In Hernando County, you don't get the feeling that state Rep. Rob Schenck, R-Spring Hill, is a legislative powerhouse.

People complain he doesn't return phone calls or attend many public events.

Considering his six years in office and vast fundraising advantage, his 11 percentage-point margin of victory in last November's election looks almost like a squeaker.

And yet.

As he enters his final term, he's been given one of the biggest jobs in the state House of Representatives, chairman of the Rules and Calendar Committee.

The position lets Schenck decide which bills are voted on and which are not, said County Commission Chairman and former state Rep. David Russell, who congratulated Schenck on his appointment during the Hernando legislative delegation forum on Monday.

It gives Schenck — with, of course, the okay of House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel — "control over the life and death of any piece of legislation," Russell said.

But if Schenck's climb to power seems surprising, it isn't really. If it seems puzzling, it actually makes perfect sense.

It's the way Tallahassee has worked for a while now. Promotions have everything to do with Tallahassee, and very little to do with the people back home.

The best evidence of the help Schenck gives to business interests is the assistance he's received in return: a total of $324,000 in contributions, including the in-kind variety from the state Republican Party, to his most recent campaign; another $221,000 to a committee of continuous existence Schenck controls.

Before getting his new assignments (Schenck has also been named chairman of the Select Committee on Gaming), he led the Health and Human Services Committee. So, it's not surprising that most of the money given to his CCE, as these continuous existence funds are called (when they're not called "slush funds"), came from hospitals, drug companies and other medical industry groups.

There was an even less flattering name — "legalized bribery" — for the leadership funds created two years ago for the use of the speaker and the Senate president. Schenck voted for these funds, and so did, I suspect, any legislator hoping to receive a decent committee assignment in the future.

Legislative leaders — and special interests, and Gov. Rick Scott — were also for prison privatization and every nutty gun-promotion bill that came along.

So was Schenck.

The leaders and Scott were against growth management and all sorts of environmental regulations that they said were too tough on business.

So was Schenck.

If you wanted to be generous, you could say that most of these positions fit with Schenck's political philosophy of limiting government and boosting enterprise.

But anyone paying attention to other longtime Republicans with generally the same philosophy — including our former senators, Paula Dockery and Mike Fasano — would know that a lot of what happens in the Legislature goes beyond policy. It's about doing favors for people who pay the bills.

So, we should have known better than to re-elect Schenck, which just confirmed his real philosophy — that he needs Tallahassee a lot more than he needs us.

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