Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Opinion

Brand names and lawmakers' games

Given Florida's penchant for being the nation's tattooed neighbor who walks around the yard in a Speedo, swilling a beer and blaring Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville, do we really want to sell the naming rights to our public facilities?

Let's face it. When it comes to understated elegance, Florida ranks somewhere between Mr. T and a Kardashian.

But that didn't stop state Rep. Irv Slosberg, D-Boca Raton, from pushing a bill that would open the door to the corporate branding of everything from highways to school cafeterias to hiking trails.

The dignity train left a long time ago. No good will come from this.

No doubt Slosberg envisioned the likes of socially conscious corporations such as clothing giant Benetton, or Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream, or perhaps Whole Foods Market, signing up to gracefully brand a park, or a building, or a school.

But if the branding brainstorm takes hold, it will be only a matter of time before motorists on I-75 discover they are traveling along the Cafe Risque Trail. Please feel free to pull into the Mons Venus Visitors' Center, serving Florida's prurient interest needs since Sodom merged with Gomorrah, for free orange juice and a hoochie-coochie dance.

And yes, that will be the Jerry Springer Divorce Court Annex.

Meanwhile, given Florida's rich tradition of elected officials reciting both the oath of office and acknowledging their Miranda rights when entering public service, what could be more appropriate than the Morgan & Morgan Capitol Building?

The BP Caladesi Island Slick & Slide? In a state where everything has a price, especially the Florida Legislature, don't bet against it.

Actually, Slosberg might be onto something.

Wouldn't it make it easier to sort out who owns who if Florida's elected officials could sell their own naming rights? Members of the House and Senate could show up in NASCAR jumpsuits covered with decals for Associated Industries, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the state's trial lawyers, insurance companies, oil and gas concerns and gambling cartels.

Now that would be truth in advertising.

The Ask Gary Governor's Mansion? Since Gov. Rick Scott appears bent on spinning off almost every government agency to the private sector, it would seem more than appropriate to revamp Medicaid by turning over the mansion to chiropractors, pain clinic scam artists and My Cousin Vinnie-esque lawyers.

As for the prison system, how could Tallahassee resist the temptation to assign the naming rights to Fox's 24 Corrections House of Pain?

We all know the public education system is in dire shape. U.S. Sugar would probably be thrilled to spread its brand identity on one side of a school bus with, to be fair, a billboard for the Florida Dental Association on the other.

And what school cafeteria could turn down the chance to be known as the Paula Deen Lard & Lunch Room?

Executions would be a prime opportunity for the Florida Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association to raise its profile. A bidding war could break out with the Oxycontin folks for the promotional rights to say: "This lethal injection is brought to you by …"

Oh, why not? This is Florida, where self-respect goes to die.

We all know Florida is a land of great natural beauty — lush state parks, scenic shorelines, tranquil rivers and streams. So booooring!

With natural resources crying out for crass commercial exploitation, the state's coffers could be awash with cash if only Slosberg's plan was implemented as irresponsibly as possible.

And the Florida Legislature is just the institution to do it.

There's more than ample space out there in all those dull woods and wetlands for terrific branding opportunities. Sea World could provide live manatee rides. As for the McDonald's Everglades Experience — one word: McPanther.

It will hardly come as a shock that the branding bill is flying through both the House and the Senate, where it is sponsored by Sen. Stephen Wise, R-Mad Men. So much potential money. So little common sense.

If Slosberg and Wise want to sell out the state, why not go all the way? Why not put the entire state up for bid? There must be someone out there willing to pony up for the naming rights for the whole thing.

Oprahida? Flori-Gaga? Warren Buffettville?

Daniel Ruth can be reached at [email protected]

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