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Daniel Ruth

The state capital that time forgot

Legend has it that in 1823 John Lee Williams started walking eastward from Pensacola while Dr. William Simmons began hoofing it westbound from St. Augustine, and in time they met up in a tiny village named Tallahassee, which is an Indian word for "you can't get here from there."

And thus it was that Florida wound up with a state capital that is less accessible than Kabul meets Where Moses Lost His Sandals.

Perhaps it is part of the state's charm that its people are governed from a place so far away, so difficult to get to, so woebegone. Indeed, we may be the only one of the 50 states whose seat of government is, for all practical purposes, a suburb of Georgia.

This notion of a Gulag Archi-Tallahassee once again came into vivid relief recently with the announcement by Delta Air Lines that its regional carrier, Delta Connection, was going to drop its service to the capital of the fourth largest state in the union.

You know your state capital is located somewhere between Mayberry and a Burma Shave billboard when an airline which is supposed to serve small communities regards Tallahassee as too inconsequential to fly into — even with a glorified Sopwith Camel rather than a real jet.

Until recently, for example, if you wanted to fly round-trip from Tampa to It Was Here Just a Moment Ago, you could board a 34-seat Delta Connection turboprop for the fun-filled environs of the Panhandle for just between $533 and $700 — or even more if the Legislature was in session.

You could fly more cheaply to Europe. Instead you get — Tallahassee.

But even this service provided at rates flirting with usury came about because of a deal cooked up among the state, the city of Tallahassee and Leon County, which persuaded Delta to provide service between the capital, Tampa, Orlando and Fort Lauderdale.

Delta estimated it needed to haul in at least $11.5 million in fares for the year. If the number fell below that taxpayers would be on the hook to cover as much as $1.5 million in losses. Guess what? Delta lost. And so do you.

Look, no one expects a company to operate at a loss, although one could argue when you are charging ridiculous fares to get to Tallahassee it is hardly surprising many potential customers — especially in these tight economic times — are going to say, "Wait a minute, you expect me to pay $700 to fly to the capital without so much as a bag of chintzy peanuts? No thanks."

Still, Delta's reluctance to continue to fly into a locale more desolated than Deadwood meets Waziristan does underscore the idea that just maybe it might be time to think about alternatives to requiring people to schlep almost to the state line in order to petition their government.

Perhaps Tallahassee was a peachy spot for a state capital at a time when the rest of the peninsula was mostly populated by insects and pelts were the currency of choice. But over the years one or two more people have moved into Florida, and most of them couldn't find Tallahassee with the help of Tonto, Lewis & Clark and a Google map.

So would it be that much of a cataclysmic event to consider holding all or part of an annual legislative session in a more centrally located site such as Orlando, or Tampa — you know, where people actually live?

Wouldn't it be worth experimenting with — just once?

Then again — pardon the cynicism, it's a character flaw — it is altogether possible the powers that be in Stepford meets Two Egg Heights are perfectly happy with the capital exactly where it is, thank you very much.

After all, if you made the capital easier to get to, more convenient to visit, well, before you know it, more people might actually want to drop in on halls of government to see how things really work when it comes to legislating. Uh oh. No good can come from this.

This open-government-in-the-sunshine fiddle-faddle has its limits, you know.

If you are a member of the Florida House or Senate, or a lobbyist, would you want the public to be able to witness the annual lap dance of chicanery, money-grubbing and influence-peddling that passes for legislating?

Much better to keep the capital tucked away between Oz and Lower Podunk where the town's two horses can freely cavort on lonely airport runways.

Government of the people, for the people and by the people is a wonderful concept — that is if you can find it in the first place.

The state capital that time forgot 10/01/09 [Last modified: Thursday, October 1, 2009 6:00pm]
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