If someone walks up to you and says, "I'm going to take your money this second," it's probably a robber.
But if someone says, "I'm going to take your money two years from now," it's probably a member of the Florida Legislature.
There's a hard lesson to be learned in the current anger over higher electric rates in this part of Florida, especially for Progress Energy's proposed nuclear plant in Levy County.
Boy, are people mad! They're calling and writing and e-mailing. They're sounding off in letters to the editor and on the Internet.
They're mocking the title of the Florida Public Service Commission, especially the "Service" part. They want to know what they can do.
Well, there are only three answers:
(1) Elect a different Legislature.
(2) Spend a bunch of money on a challenge that doesn't have a prayer.
It is a done deal. The fact is that for each of the last three years, our Legislature has passed a big "energy bill" that has put the law of this state sharply in the favor of Florida's electric companies.
• In 2006, the Legislature passed the first law allowing early billing for nuclear power plants that are just a gleam in the electric company's eye.
• In 2007, more of the companies came back and got a law giving them the same deal for certain coal plants, too.
• And in the 2008 session this spring, they came back yet again and got a law making it easier for them to run new lines, and harder for citizens to fight them.
The net effect has been to put Florida in the forefront of the pro-nuclear, pro-big-power-plant movement.
And although nobody loves to gripe about the Public Service Commission more than I do, now the PSC is mostly just obeying the Legislature.
People are asking:
"Who voted for this? I want to know their names!"
The answer is, all of them. The first bill back in 2006 (which was pretty much written by the industry) passed by a vote of 39-0 in the Senate, and 118-1 in the House.
There wasn't much controversy. In fact, everybody congratulated one another.
"Why didn't I know about this," angry citizens ask.
Don't look at me. I was right here, waving my arms in the air and yelling, "HEY! THEY'RE PASSING A LAW TO BILL US IN ADVANCE FOR NUCLEAR PLANTS!"
So, here is the lesson. If you're a teacher, tell your pupils. If you're a student of civics, learn this by heart.
The lesson is that what the Legislature does affects us all — even if it doesn't affect us right now. We have to care about what happens beyond today.
The lesson is to read the newspaper like a citizen. The lesson is to reconnect with the town square and to take ownership of our own state. The lesson is to speak up when there's still a chance.
This isn't very comforting, is it? Sorry.
This coming spring the Legislature meets again. Odds are that somewhere along the way, there will be an idea that you like or don't like.
When that day comes, say something. Look up your legislator on the Internet or the phone book. Call or send a letter or an e-mail. Tell them, "I am a Florida voter, and I think this is a bad idea." Or a good idea, as the case may be.
It's the only way.