One of my favorite Florida fun facts is that our constitution of 1838, written while we were still a U.S. territory, banned three special classes of people from public office:
"Ministers of the Gospel."
Banks and bankers were especially distrusted during the Age of Jackson (unlike, you know, today). The practice of dueling was falling out of favor and was banned by several states.
As for ministers, there were different ideas about church and state back then.
I wonder, if the 1838 authors could have peered into the future, whether they might have extended their ban on public office to employees of community colleges and state universities.
As Jennifer Liberto, Mary Ellen Klas and Steve Bousquet reported in Monday's newspaper, at least 18 current or recent members of our state Legislature are employed by or draw income from public higher education in Florida.
That represents better than one out of 10 seats in the 160-member Legislature. Sheesh! You would think with all that educational clout, Florida would be erecting Harvards of the South all over the place.
How come we don't see those headlines, huh?
LEGISLATURE IN GRIP OF 'GOOD COLLEGE' CABAL
TALLAHASSEE — Outraged by another round of Nobel Prizes awarded to Florida's universities, critics Thursday called for a cutback. "This special-interest group has had its way in the Legislature for too long," said the director of Florida Common Cause.
One of out 10!
Can you imagine the damage the Legislature could do if that many members were hired by, say, the utility industry? Heck, they might even start passing wacky laws saying that electric companies could bill their customers a lot more. (Hey, wait a minute …)
Some of these legislators were already working when they were elected. But some, most notably House Speaker Ray Sansom, got their jobs later — in Sansom's case, a $110,000-a-year community college job the same day he became speaker.
So we have public agencies, dependent upon the state budget, putting the elected writers of that budget directly on their own payroll.
By the way, legislators get hired by the private sector, too. We just don't hear about it quite as much. More than one newly chosen House speaker or newly elected member has suddenly magically become a new associate of a well-connected law firm.
I suppose the real wonder here is that the situation isn't worse, that the entire public sector hasn't taken it up.
If the Department of Corrections wants a better budget, why shouldn't it start hiring its own delegation? Why not the state park system, which could use the dough?
Maybe we could have some sort of bidding system.
Or, maybe, and I am just talkin' kooky here …
Maybe it should be unconstitutional to put a member of the Legislature on the public payroll after he or she has been elected.
I would give a break, at least a partial break, to those who get hired first and elected later. No doubt there still would be some gaming of the system, with hirings done as soon as the last pre-election polls were in. But, hey, it would be a start.
Now, about those bankers …