Sansom shouldn't have missed this class

Sansom

Sansom

The seminar was titled "How Not to Get in Trouble as a Legislator."

The trouble is, it was put on by House Democrats, so the one person who should have been there wasn't: Rep. Ray Sansom of Destin, Republican speaker of the Florida House.

Of course, Republicans held a similar discussion when they gathered this week to prepare for a new legislative year.

No, Sansom is not in trouble in the literal sense. But the first week of his two-year term as speaker did not produce headlines for the scrapbook.

On Tuesday, the day Sansom became speaker to multiple standing ovations, the board of trustees at his hometown college gave him a $110,000-a-year job as vice president for planning and development. (He will be paid from private sources like bookstore profits, not tax dollars).

Sansom has longstanding ties to the school. He went there when it was called Okaloosa-Walton Community College, and he has an advanced college degree in education.

But last year, he played a key role in securing a state college designation for the school that changed its name to Northwest Florida State College and allows it to offer bachelor's degrees. And, as the Times' Alex Leary also reported Friday, he got a $200,000 state grant for the school's "leadership institute" in the current budget, despite this being the toughest year in decades for such gifts.

"Remember, we are a citizens' Legislature," Sansom said of his new venture. "We have jobs. We have careers."

That's the point. Would Sansom have been landed that nice job if he were Ray Sansom, all-around good guy with no political profile? Hardly.

As a college employee, Sansom will now find himself under heightened scrutiny whenever the House takes up any matter involving colleges and universities, which is how it should be.

The perception of a legislative leader profiting from his position is not new.

Sansom's predecessor as speaker, Marco Rubio, a lawyer, landed a $300,000-a-year job at Broad & Cassel, a powerhouse law firm, in 2004 as he prepared to take over as speaker. It will be interesting to see whether the firm continues to have such regard for Rubio's legal skills now that he's out of office.

As for Sansom, word of his new job came as he was leading House Republicans at a three-day retreat at a Santa Rosa Beach resort, paid for with Republican Party (read: special interest) money.

Sansom is among the most vocal of the legislators who talk about the need to reduce the size of government and that reliance on government money is not a good thing.

While Sansom was at the Republican retreat, Democrats were getting a crash course in public perception.

In a conference room, lawyer-lobbyist Ron Meyer guided 44 House Democrats through the mine fields of the gift ban, conflicts of interest and campaign finance law.

"The rule is, you don't accept anything from a lobbyist," Meyer said. "That includes me buying you a drink."

He told them: You're all under a microscope. Just having lunch with a lobbyist raises suspicions of a gift-ban violation. "You've got to be careful about appearances," he said.

Are you listening, Speaker Sansom?

Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

Sansom shouldn't have missed this class 11/21/08 [Last modified: Friday, March 25, 2011 7:33pm]

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