It ain't the apple, it's the whole barrel

It took only two pages on Friday for a grand jury to indict former House Speaker Ray Sansom and his friend, the president of Northwest Florida State College.

But after that two-page charge, the grand jury added a 10-page "presentment," a critical report of the Legislature itself, which should be of interest to every Floridian.

The grand jury, made up of everyday citizens called to their civic duty, took a look at the way our Legislature works — and it was disgusted.

The gist of the specific case against Sansom and college president Bob Richburg is that they snookered $6 million into the state budget to help a big-shot donor, building an aircraft hangar he wanted while calling it a "classroom."

But the grand jury rightly placed the Sansom scandal in the overall context of a Legislature that stuffs its pockets with unlimited donor money and operates, at the highest levels, under the secret control of a powerful few.

The presentment said:

[T]he ability of an individual or corporation to contribute large sums of money to political action committees or major political parties needs to be addressed by the Legislature. The present system has the potential to breed corruption and create an unfair advantage for those who have money to leverage influence on the Legislature.

It also said:

This state should be guided in openness and transparency. The procedure currently in place requires that our elected legislators vote on a final budget that they have no knowledge about because it is finalized in a meeting between only two legislators …

The grand jury urged the Legislature to "clean up the process" and make Florida "an example to the nation as a state that works for the people and not the special interest of those who have money to influence the Legislature."

So in the greater sense, the entire Legislature stands accused. The entire Legislature needs to answer.

The Legislature needs to answer for these wicked "527" committees run by many of its members, Democrat and Republican alike, a system of legalized bribery.

The Legislature needs to answer for a process in which it files blank "shell" bills, keeps them out of the public view until late in the session, and then miraculously adds "amendments" written by lobbyist-donors that instantly become the law of the state.

Irony of ironies — on the same day as the Sansom indictment, the Legislature rammed through a huge, bad elections bill that no one had the chance to see in advance.

Deregulate the telephone companies! Pay off the gambling industry! Keep all the sweetheart tax breaks! Weaken Florida's rules for developers! Cut the university budget! Gut the class-size amendment!

This is the Legislature that the people of Florida want?

I know what people in Tallahassee say: If the voters don't like it, they can kick out their legislator.

But the truth is, the voters can't. Their legislator has too much money. Their legislator is part of a big insiders' club.

Good grief! The immediate past speaker of the House was just indicted on Friday. Indicted!

Did the Legislature react? Did it even blush?

Did it call an emergency recess to read the grand jury presentment?

Did it name an extraordinary committee to consider the recommendations?

Did it apologize?

It ain't the apple, it's the whole barrel 04/17/09 [Last modified: Monday, April 20, 2009 11:08am]

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