Sunday, May 20, 2018
Opinion

Droppings from the lamest of lame ducks

It is axiomatic that not much happens in Tallahassee until toward the end of the legislative session when the final deals are cooked, the last minute conspiracies are hatched and, of course, the annual rite of back-stabbing begins in earnest.

This isn't democracy in action. It's a good old boy junta, taking names, settling scores and extracting revenge. Think of this as the reign of the Borgias, only without the sense of whimsy.

So it's a fair question: Why even bother with the charade of legislating? Why not dispense with filing bills, holding committee hearings and voting on stuff and put Senate Budget Committee Chairman JD Alexander in charge of everything, since it certainly appears the Big Daddy of Lake Wales is firmly in charge of establishing Florida as the Dogpatch of the nation?

This is like handing the car keys over to the talking E*Trade baby.

You don't need the CSI: Tallahassee forensics experts to find Alexander's oily fingerprints all over the smarmy effort to do a parliamentary end-run around the Legislature's committee process to grant the rump campus of Lakeland's USF Polytechnic full immediate independence.

Alexander went into a full Old Yeller mouth foam a few months back when his plot to hand the runaway campus its independence was slowed down by USF president Judy Genshaft and the Board of Governors, which oversees the state university system.

Even the USF Poly faculty opposed independence.

Imagine the gall of it all. People who actually understand how universities work had the gumption to tell the Boss Hogg of Polk County that his idea was bad.

It wasn't as if the board wasn't willing to consider emancipation for USF Poly. But these things take time, most notably the lengthy and detailed scholarly accreditation process, which can run anywhere from three to five years.

Indeed, USF Poly is on the road to independence once certain benchmarks are met involving accreditation, campus construction and enrollment levels. Seems fair enough.

Not to Alexander, a term-limited lame duck in more ways than one. But even the lamest of lame ducks can leave plenty of droppings in its wake. So late last week, Sen. Evelyn Lynn, the body's Miss Teschmacher to the Lex Luthor of letters, stuck language into a budget conforming bill that would grant USF Poly immediate autonomy.

But the petulant poltroon of the Apalachee Parkway was only getting started. Under Alexander's ham-handed authority, next year's state budget includes a $104 million reduction in money appropriated to USF, which translates into only $2,401 per student. By contrast, Florida State University is set to be funded at a rate of $5,470 per student. Could Alexander's Captain Ahab single-minded obsession for retribution be anymore obvious? Or odious?

"Say, you have a pretty nice university there, it would be a shame if something happened to it," is Alexander's position. So consumed with making Genshaft's life miserable, Alexander either doesn't know or doesn't care what he is attempting to do is actually create Podunk U.

What student is going to want to attend a nonaccredited university? What professor is going to be willing to take a job with a school with less credible academic standing than the University of Moe, Larry and Curly? And what potential philanthropist is going to donate to a laughingstock of an institution born from the petty hubris of a declasse soon-to-be former pol?

Ignoring appropriate committees to further pet projects or to punish difficult to deal with legislators has become common practice in Tallahassee. And it's also a sure sign the legislation being passed without proper vetting is more of a train wreck waiting to happen than Rick Perry's presidential campaign.

What else explains bypassing the Florida Senate Higher Education Committee to create the state's 12th university?

Lynn, doing her best Howdy Doody impersonation, channelled her string-puller by feebly explaining it was simply taking too long for USF Poly to meet its benchmark standards. It would seem she knows even less about the accreditation process than the Col. Kurtz of the Capitol.

"And things happen," she cryptically added. And none of it very good when JD Alexander's Florida Senate is in session.

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