Say you're a Republican legislator getting ready for a brutal budget year that may require painful cuts to state programs and increased fees and/or taxes. How hard is it to talk about sacrifice and fiscal discipline when your own GOP House leader, Ray Sansom, has funneled millions of dollars to a community college that turned around and hired him for a $110,000 job?
"To be honest, it's a little bit difficult. People hold us responsible for actions, regardless who the leader is,'' state Rep. Rachel Burgin, R-Brandon, said during a Political Connections interview airing at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. today on Bay News 9.
The newly elected legislator declined to say whether she thought Sansom should quit the college or speaker's post: "He needs to take a look at his own situation and go from there,'' she said, noting that his budget experience will make him "a good speaker for us at this time dealing with the budget issues we have."
The Florida Democratic Party is punching hard: "Crist's defense of embattled Speaker Ray Sansom, continued support for his hand picked Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer, and the fact that Crist bundler Harry Sargeant III remains RPOF Finance Chairman proves that while Crist continues smiling for the cameras his out-of-touch optimism and George W. Bush-like inattentiveness have allowed Republican corruption to fester, our economy to tank, and Floridians to suffer,'' party spokesman Eric Jotkoff said in a news release.
Republican spokeswoman Erin VanSickle responded by invoking Barack Obama: "Barack Obama has pledged to set up a bipartisan administration and revive the economy. We take him at his word. Florida Democrat Chairman Karen Thurman, however, refuses to follow the lead of President-Elect Obama, continuing to hurl hyper-partisan attacks across the aisle instead of working for change."
Gunning for RNC boss
Unlike state Republican chairs including Saul Anuzis of Michigan, Katon Dawson of South Carolina and former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, Florida GOP Chairman Jim Greer has done little to position himself for a run for RNC chairman. But he hasn't closed the door on running, and he has been invited by Americans for Tax Reform to a debate of candidates for RNC leader on Jan. 5. Greer says he will decide in a few weeks after hearing from the other candidates, but it may already be too late for him to mount a serious campaign.
Republicans' high cost of governing
State GOP leaders are giving Democrats a lot of targets lately, and not just Sansom. The South Florida Sun-Sentinel looked at Gov. Charlie Crist's state trip to Europe last summer, and found that expenses included a $2,180 per-night hotel suite for Crist and his fiancee, and $1,300 on room service and mini-bar expenses. Business donations picked up much of the trip's costs, but taxpayers paid a portion that had been estimated at $255,000, but actually totalled $430,000.
"I think that I have a duty to do as much as I can to promote employment for my fellow Floridians," Crist said last week, defending the trip. "And that's what a trade mission is designed to do, and I hope it does it."
Then there's state GOP Finance Chairman Harry Sargeant, who helped bundle thousands of dollars in campaign checks that John McCain wound up refunding when controversy erupted. And state GOP Chairman Greer, who's had to reimburse the party for spa services and other personal expenses. These aren't the sort of stories Republicans need when one in 157 Florida homes are in foreclosure and lawmakers must find billions in budget cuts.