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Florida House speaker keeps the dough, forfeits the authority

Looks like the new speaker of the Florida House, Ray Sansom, is pretty dug in about keeping that $110,000-a-year community college job that he got the same day he became speaker.

In a weird way — a very weird way — about 10 percent of me admires him for it. I have a grudging regard for a fellow who tells the public to get stuffed, instead of taking a poll to go the restroom.

On the other hand, $110,000 a year probably eases the pain a little bit. It certainly beats getting yelled at for free, anyway.

Look. Not for one second do I believe there was a crooked deal between Northwest Florida State College and the speaker.

As they say in Tallahassee, it is what it is. He was a longtime friend of the school, an alumnus. He shoveled a bunch of money in the school's direction.

When Sansom became speaker, the school put him on the payroll. It was an unadvertised job, an insider deal. Looks pretty seedy, all in all.

But it was not, I don't believe, an explicit quid pro quo — "Give us this money and we'll kick you some back." That's not how it works. This isn't Chicago, after all.

The other 90 percent of me thinks that Ray Sansom has damaged the Florida House of Representatives for the next two years. That's the real problem.

As a moral force, the House is kaput. The House has no standing to lecture Floridians on how to live their lives, on what is right or wrong, on what sacrifices should be made, even on what the state budget ought to say.

In fact, on every major policy area that the House tackles, it will be vulnerable to this bad symbolism. Speaker Sansom has attached a permanent comma to his name — from here on he is "Sansom, who got a $110,000 community college job the same day he became speaker."

You know who we haven't heard from much?

The members of the House themselves, who stand to be hurt the most, and who just elected him speaker by acclamation.

Oh, I hear grumblings. I hear talk of behind-the-scenes dissatisfaction, even disbelief. But the speaker is all-powerful. Nobody wants to stand up.

I thought I'd ask a few members of the Tampa Bay delegation: Is this okay by you? Do you endorse it? So I put out a few calls.

Here would be the most refreshing answer:

"I think my friend the speaker, an honorable man, showed poor judgment here. I wish he hadn't done it, and I call on him to put his job aside until he leaves office."

Here, at least, would be some kind of answer:

"I think it's great that the speaker, who has long-standing ties to this school, is now on the payroll. All the better as the Legislature wrestles with education issues."

You know, even this would be a frank answer: "I am ducking this one. What, do you think I'm crazy?"

The only member I talked to was Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel. I asked him about Sansom a half-dozen different ways, but he answered the same each time: He is focused only on the problems of our state.

It was a full-scale duck, of course — a mallard, a drake, a Daffy, a Donald. But he was good at it, and I knew that I was licked.

The silence of the members gives assent. They have no one else to blame for whatever comes now.

The same dingy shadow covers them all.

Florida House speaker keeps the dough, forfeits the authority 12/10/08 [Last modified: Sunday, December 14, 2008 1:28pm]
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