There was a revealing episode early in this year's session of the Legislature. It concerned a bill to allow guns on Florida's college campuses.
Never mind that a student at Florida State University had died in a shooting as recently as January, or that her father testified powerfully against the idea, or that university police chiefs opposed it.
The guns-on-campus bill might well have passed anyway, except for an interesting coincidence: An influential senator, John Thrasher, R-Jacksonville, happened to know the dead girl's family.
"It's beyond personal for me," Thrasher said.
"Any other time I might support something like this, but I just can't."
Consider that quote again:
Any other time I might support something like this.
Except he knew someone hurt by it.
Otherwise, the Legislature could not have figured out that it might be a bad idea.
This year, more than any of the past 30, I often got the impression that the Legislature was writing law based on stereotype and caricature.
Like the cardboard cutouts that pop up on police training ranges, straw men were always popping up in the Legislature's debates.
These included public school teachers (incompetent union hacks), government employees (dead weight), political activists (all engaged in voter fraud), women seeking abortions (baby killers), poor people on Medicaid (leeches), people on unemployment benefits (bums) and even voters who moved more often than Decent People ought to, and therefore who should not be allowed to cast a regular ballot on Election Day.
Each group got whacked. Teacher tenure, repealed. Those state employees not fired will have their paychecks docked for pensions. Suspicious groups (you know, like the League of Women Voters) face tough new laws and penalties when registering voters. Women who seek abortions must get ultrasounds and either hear a little talk from their doctor, or else be put on the spot to refuse it. Unemployment benefits, cut. Medicaid, turned over to private corporations, with the poor blocked from suing for malpractice (only people with money should be able to sue for malpractice). And so forth.
Decent People, meanwhile, do not care about the physical Florida or the environment. Decent People wanted the Legislature to throw out 30 years of laws that regulated growth. Decent People want to cut the public schools while expanding charter and voucher schools.
And, by the way, Decent People want guns anywhere — except for college campuses, because one senator knew somebody who was shot.
You know who didn't get theirs? Immigrants, surprisingly enough, despite all the stereotypes on that subject.
As Thrasher had done on guns, another high-profile Republican -— J.D. Alexander, the Senate's budget chief — defected from the party line on immigrants based on his personal knowledge from agribusiness.
"I resent," Alexander said, "that I have to be asked to choose between hardworking people and somebody's uninformed knowledge."
Hey, no fair actually knowing something about it!
All the Legislature needs now is to become personally acquainted with a couple of unemployed folks, pregnant women, public school teachers and poor people on Medicaid.