Florida is going down a rabbit hole

I'm not surprised that Wonderland, the musical which originated in Tampa, received withering reviews when it opened on Broadway April 17. I walked out before the second act when it premiered here in 2009, anxious to escape this lame and incoherent rendering of a grown-up Alice and her tea party crowd. Little did I know that there soon would be no escape from a real-life tea party onslaught that would overtake the state. These days, Florida is trapped in its own version of Wonderland. Call it: "Crazyland." But rather than a dream-like romp through the imagination, this is a prodigious and horrifying nightmare from which there is no waking up.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott's election was the first evidence that the state had fallen down a rabbit hole. A political neophyte with vast wealth accumulated by building a hospital chain that paid record fines for fraud against Medicare, Scott has been running the state as if he took Queen-of-Hearts lessons from the Lewis Carroll character herself.

Just as the Queen declared that in matters of judgment, "first the sentence, and then the evidence," Scott's distaste for state regulation led him to instantly upon taking office halt every new rule that hadn't yet gone into effect, regardless of the merits.

His "off with their heads" moment came when Scott unilaterally canceled a high-speed rail project that would have brought billions of federal dollars, thousands of jobs and badly needed transportation infrastructure to Florida.

And he flexed his monarchial arbitrariness to great effect by holding up emergency funding for the court system, and forcing the state's chief judges to gear up for possible courtroom closures before deigning to release the crumbs.

Rounding out Florida's tea party menagerie is the Legislature, which enjoys veto-proof Republican majorities in both houses, and is chockablock with lawmakers whose bizarre way of thinking would give the Mad Hatter a run for it. For instance, House Speaker Dean Cannon, channeling Humpty Dumpty, banished the word "uterus" from the House floor because it was too offensive and shouldn't be uttered around children. In Cannon's world, a word means just what he chooses it to mean.

"Conservative" is too bland an adjective to describe the radical reactionary revisions to the state being pushed by these folks, whose attacks on the status quo threaten our democracy and governmental structure.

Proposals that have the backing of House leaders include efforts to assert control over the state judiciary. First, by packing the state Supreme Court with ideological conservatives by splitting the high court into two divisions and adding three Scott-picked justices. And second, by second-guessing the court's rule-making by giving lawmakers the power to reject any rule by a simple majority vote.

Election bills in both houses would make voting as challenging as figuring out how to get through a mouse-size door at the bottom of a rabbit hole.

Contrary to the Republicans' professed distaste for government regulation, a host of burdensome rules would be thrust upon grassroots groups that do voter registration drives, such as the League of Women Voters.

In addition to elaborate new paperwork requirements, every voter registration application would have to be submitted within 48 hours of completion, instead of the current 10-day window — an absurdly short time frame for groups that rely on hundreds of volunteers.

And Republican leaders want to erect new voting barriers for women, college students and renters — presumably Democratic-leaning constituencies — by disqualifying voters at the polls whose name or address is different from their registration.

Labor unions would also be neutered by having their ability to give money to candidates or political causes impossibly burdened under a measure pushed by Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, the former chairman of the Republican Party of Florida. Of course, no similar limits are being considered for corporate contributions.

The bottom line is, this is the exertion of power to retain power for the sake of power. I call it Crazyland, but really it's crazyland like a fox, and, unlike Wonderland, there's no way to avoid the second act.

Florida is going down a rabbit hole 04/23/11 [Last modified: Saturday, April 23, 2011 5:30am]

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