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Daniel Ruth

Florida's second banana slips up

If there is a bigger do-nothing job that comes with a government check, aside from being Prince Charles, it has to be wiling away the hours as Florida's lieutenant governor, a position blissfully held by Jeff Kottkamp, who has logged more frequent flier miles than the Steve Fossett.

Really now, what is it the state's second banana has to do except call the Governor's Mansion every morning to find out if Charlie Crist still has a pulse and then go back to bed?

A Galapagos Island turtle works up more of a sweat.

And yet since he was sworn into office to attend to the sharpening of the pencils in the governor's office, Kottkamp, R-I'm Jeff, Fly Me, has managed to pile up $402,000 in state-funded air travel, including some $12,000 spent on 25 flights including family members.

Indeed, Kottkamp cost the taxpayers $112,000 in sending empty planes hither and yon across the state to pick him up to address the urgent business of plaque-passing, ribbon-cutting and flesh-pressing, which somehow seems more than oddly prophetic considering the post as Florida's official bridesmaid has a less detailed job description than — lap dancer.

Since he ascended to the vital role of Florida's answer to Ed McMahon, Kottkamp has gone wheels up 226 times, with about 45 percent of that wanderlust occurring between his digs in Tallahassee and a straight man's $1.4 million shed in Cape Coral.

In addition, the lieutenant governor, whose job has to be a bit like laboring away as an assistant Wal-Mart greeter, was accompanied on his "Travels With Jeff" by a security detail from the Florida Highway Patrol.

Not to be too terribly unkind, but why would anyone want to do harm to a public official who has less juice, less clout, less visibility than Linda Bollea's fashion consultant? Good grief, Kottkamp's own family members probably don't even recognize him.

Florida's Tonto spends most of his time in Southwest Florida, ever ready to jet off at a moment's notice should an emergency photo-op with the Visiting Nurse Association in Pakokee require him to buckle up and take to the heavens.

By any standard of rationality, spending more than $400,000 for Kottkamp to galumph around the state just so he can tell people "I'll ask Charlie about that," seems just a pinch on the excessive side.

In addition to his personal wealth, the Sancho Panza of the Apalachee Parkway also makes $127,399 a year as the governor's stand-in body double.

So it was mighty big of Jeff Kottkamp, R-Wanna Get Away?, to offer to reimburse the taxpayer coffers for the expenses associated with the travel on board the state aircraft by his wife and son. Thanks a bunch.

However Kottkamp's fiduciary epiphany didn't occur until the South Florida Sun-Sentinel exposed the dubious travel costs, which were dismissed as simple bookkeeping errors in addition to the dog eating the expense accounts and mean old Mr. Potter absconding with the paperwork.

But this piffle seems a bit strained when one realizes that before he became Crist's Muppet, Jeff Kottkamp, already a successful trial lawyer presumably familiar with paying attention to details, served for six years in the Florida House, including stints as chairman of the appropriations and government operations committees, which oversees stuff like — how money gets spent.

This wasn't as if the lieutenant governor had previously been toiling away as a shepherd, completely unaware of state travel guidelines for public officials before Charlie Crist put a gun to his head and forced him to become his running mate.

As the state aircraft flew about the state, perhaps en route to a critical toll booth opening, it never dawned on Kottkamp to wonder to himself as he sat with his wife and son, "Shouldn't I be paying for this?"

Well he's a busy guy. So many Rotary Club lunches, so little time.

Since the onboard peanuts hit the fan, the governor's Renfield has insisted he has been driving a lot more to save money, which must make it pretty cramped in that Smart Fortwo with the wife and tot, the designated underling and the security guard.

Now that Kottkamp has had his wings clipped, the lieutenant governor will be able to devote more of his energies down in Cape Coral playing pinochle while awaiting his next high-level government mission to judge county fair beauty pageants, entertaining visiting heads of state from Palau and calling Tallahassee from time to time to see if Charlie has the chills.

It's a living — more or less.

Florida's second banana slips up 02/12/09 [Last modified: Thursday, February 12, 2009 7:16pm]
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