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Sansom galloped to goals in blinders

The $110,000 paycheck isn't too shabby in a recession. Better yet, the job wasn't advertised.

That's because it was offered to only one man: House Speaker Ray Sansom.

It seems strange that Sansom would risk his credibility and that of the Florida House and cling to his job as vice president at the hometown state college that has benefited handsomely from his ability to snag public money.

It seems strange, that is, until you consider three factors that shape the Legislature: term limits, legislative pay, and the way speakers are chosen.

None of this excuses the actions of Sansom, who seems oblivious to appearances. Since he's not talking, these factors may shed light on why he did what he did.

• • •

Sansom was elected to the House in 2002 and soon began seeking the job of speaker. It's a popularity contest in which voters have no say. Whether the people of Florida get a statesman or scoundrel (there have been plenty of both) is purely a matter of luck.

Like others before him, he traveled the state, bonded with fellow Republicans and proved his likability.

Term limits meant Sansom had only eight years. He had to act fast to secure the powerful job in his last term, which is now.

• • •

Sansom is not a rich guy. He and his wife have three daughters. The job of speaker is very demanding and it pays about $42,000 a year (rank-and-file lawmakers make considerably less, about $31,000).

The job that should be paying Sansom a lot of money is speaker, but he should be prohibited from holding an outside job that poses potential conflicts.

Sansom is not a lawyer whose partners can cover for him when he's in Tallahassee, and he obviously needed work (his last job was working for an Alabama power company).

The college job was announced Nov. 18, the same day Sansom was sworn in as speaker.

• • •

Appearances count, and Sansom appears not to have anticipated the scrutiny that comes with the job. He could have asked predecessors like Johnnie Byrd, Tom Feeney or the last speaker from his area, Bo Johnson (who, believe it or not, held a similar job at the same college but quit before he became speaker in 1992).

Either Sansom's aides in the speaker's office failed to warn him of the risks of taking a plum patronage job when so many Floridians are suffering, or he ignored them when they did.

He should have known. For a guy who likes to criticize the size of bureaucracy, Sansom has been making a living off government for a good part of his life.

He was a legislative aide two decades ago. He was elected as a county commissioner in Okaloosa and worked for the county school system before winning election to the House six years ago.

If Sansom ever calls a news conference, he's going to be pelted with questions about his actions, starting with this: Isn't that college job more trouble than it's worth?

Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

Sansom galloped to goals in blinders 12/13/08 [Last modified: Monday, December 15, 2008 2:46pm]

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