Make us your home page

Florida deserves a better speaker

House Speaker Ray Sansom, R-Destin, directed money to a college that hired him.

Associated Press

House Speaker Ray Sansom, R-Destin, directed money to a college that hired him.

The events of the past week have revealed Barack Obama to be a politician who remained silent while a political ally got entangled in sleazy Chicago scandals.

What does Obama's silence say about his character?

That's a question Florida Republicans should be asking themselves today, as their House speaker finds himself in the middle of a growing ethical storm.

Rep. Ray Sansom, R-Destin, has been a friend of mine and a political ally since I first ran for Congress in 1994.

But like Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, the Ray Sansom that I have read about bears little resemblance to the guy I have known for 15 years.

It is maddening to see what power does to some men. Sansom has been in political hot water from the day he was named speaker of the House.

That also was, coincidentally, the day Sansom announced he was taking a six-figure job at a college that Sansom, as budget chairman, had larded with pork barrel projects.

Northwest Florida State College asked for $1-million in appropriations last year. Sansom decided that wasn't enough.

He tacked on an additional $25-million for his future employer and funded a program that would pay his salary.

President Bob Richburg was so impressed by the chairman's work ethic that he gave his college's political ally a $110,000-a-year job without telling a soul.

Can you believe that the same college that benefited so handsomely from Sansom's chairmanship would award him the six-figure job without advertising the position?

What a coincidence!

Making matters worse for embarrassed Republicans, Sansom faxed his job application for the post using state staff and public resources.

While it seems suspicious enough that the college would reward such a high-paying job without advertising the post, records show that Sansom and Richburg have hatched sweetheart deals behind closed doors before.

Last year, Sansom got an e-mail from his future employer giving advice on how to secretly help the college without dealing with those meddlesome open government laws.

Richburg told Sansom they should place a public notice of the meeting in a community 150 miles from the state capital, but conduct a private session with college trustees in Tallahassee.

Richburg helpfully explained in a Feb. 12 e-mail: "It's probably the only way we can do it in privacy but with a public notice here."

Sansom was delighted by the deceptive tactics.

"That would be great!! We can get a private room on the sixth floor at FSU," Ray giddily responded to his boss' plot to undermine the intent of Florida's Sunshine Law that governs public meetings and public records.

While there are few personal parallels between Blagojevich and Sansom, one common thread seems obvious: Both have tried to use their public offices for private gain.

Sansom's scandals couldn't have come at a worse time for Florida Republicans.

While GOP candidates in other states got crushed by the 2008 Democratic landslide, Gov. Charlie Crist's party did so well that every incumbent House member in the Florida Legislature won re-election.

But with Florida facing tough economic times and a brutal budget crisis, Sansom is a luxury Crist's party cannot afford.

The past month has shown that my old friend lacks the judgment and character to lead Florida Republicans into the future.

Republicans deserve better.

So does our state.

This commentary first appeared in the Pensacola News-Journal. Scarborough hosts the Morning Joe news show. A Republican, he represented the Pensacola area in Congress from 1994-2001.

Florida deserves a better speaker 12/17/08 [Last modified: Friday, December 19, 2008 3:02pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours