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Daniel Ruth

Term limits put clueless newbies in charge in Tallahassee

This is the best Republicans can do? Really?

Speaker-to-be Chris Dorworth's finances are such a mess he makes Ralph Kramden look like Bill Gates. And yet Dorworth's fellow House Republicans recently elected him to be the leader of the chamber come 2014, assuming he isn't living in a box down by the Wakulla River by then.

Or put another way, Republicans in the House have opted to elevate an individual to one of the three most powerful political posts in the state who is facing foreclosure of his $1.2 million home, a $2.7 million legal judgment against him and even had his driver's license temporarily suspended and failed to pay highway tolls.

This is the party of financial restraint, fiduciary responsibility, balanced budgets?

And now Chris Dorworth, R-Iceland, is going to preside over a chamber that helps craft a nearly $67 billion budget? Isn't this a bit like putting Dick Cheney in charge of the American Civil Liberties Union?

Of allllllll the Republicans serving in the House, this was their only choice, the only alternative, the absolute head and shoulders cream of the crop, above all other contenders they could pick?

If nothing else proves the old adage that Florida is a state with California issues and a Mississippi legislature, this is it.

Now it may well be that Dorworth, R-DeLorean Motors, is a fine chap who loves warm puppies and lollipops. So does Kermit the Frog, but you wouldn't want him ruling over the finances of the fourth-largest state in the union.

If anything, Dorworth's selection is yet more prima facie evidence for why term limits for elected officials is a well-intentioned but bumfuzzled notion.

Consider this for just a moment. Chris Dorworth has only served in the Florida Legislature since his election in 2007. The Lake Mary Republican barely figured out where the men's room was located in the Capitol before being crowned the future speaker.

Excuse the highly technical, political science term — but this is nuts.

Because term limits have given rise to an amateur political class ruling Tallahassee, Floridians have been saddled with a litany of untested, untried, stumbling, fumbling leaders who were in more over their head than the Dalai Lama serving as an American Idol judge.

What has all this reform given us lately as speakers? There was the personality-challenged Johnnie Byrd, who treated the post as if it was something out of Thomas Pynchon meets an undisclosed location. Then there was Allan Bense, the oddball in this group because he was a grown-up who acted like one and even had some gray hair. Then there was 12-year-old Marco Rubio, whose major claim to fame was spending thousands of dollars for a new dining room for House members, unaware perhaps that the Capitol building has a rather functional cafeteria.

Ray Sansom followed, however briefly, before he was forced to resign in disgrace. In the years before he became speaker, he doled out millions to his pal at the local community college in return for a job. Larry Cretul seems like a nice guy, but he is the accidental speaker who never campaigned for the job.

The common denominator among most all of these folks is that they ascended to one of the highest offices in the state with less experience and fewer legislative accomplishments than a high school student council representative.

Now, soon to be added to that roster of perpetual rookie pols is a guy with less time in Tallahassee than Urban Meyer, whose checkbook looks like the Bangladesh of personal finance.

If you want to rail against the evils of experienced legislators as the bane of governance, feel free. But at least — before the imposition of term limits — these folks knew what they were doing, knew how to legislate, knew how to govern.

Instead, the era of term limits has only given rise to a cadre of glad-handers who simply use their time in Tallahassee as a training ground to learn how to become a lobbyist and/or treat their positions as a stepping-stone to move on to higher office — or a cushy college job.

Bizarrely enough, the term limits system forces the likes of Dorworth, R-I Will Gladly Pay You Tuesday, For A Hamburger Today, to begin positioning themselves to rise through the leadership ranks before they are even elected. Not even the most passionate term limits supporter can think this is a good idea.

There's a reason why so many issues — protecting pregnant pigs, limiting class sizes, endorsing and repealing high-speed rail — wind up as constitutional amendment initiatives on election year ballots. And it's largely because the Florida Legislature is populated by term-limited, inexperienced newbies who are either too clueless or too gutless to tackle these issues.

No doubt young Chris Dorworth, R-Brother Can You Spare A Dime?, is on the political fast track. But can he even afford the fare? Can the people of Florida?

Term limits put clueless newbies in charge in Tallahassee 02/25/10 [Last modified: Thursday, February 25, 2010 6:39pm]
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