The position of speaker of the Florida House of Representatives carries with it not only great authority, but also great responsibility. Accordingly, when I became speaker of the House, I fully understood that my actions both in and out of office would be scrutinized. I welcome that accountability, as I have welcomed it throughout a career that I have conducted with as much openness and transparency as possible.
It was in the spirit of openness that, at the same time I became speaker, I announced that I had accepted a job as a vice president at Northwest Florida State College. Term limits require me to leave the Florida House in 2010, and the college was an ideal place to continue working on the issues that have animated my career in public service. I'm passionate about education and work force development in northwest Florida, and I have deep personal ties to the college — I put myself through school there, and without it I would have been unable to get a college degree. My intention was to serve at the college for a long time, perhaps even for the rest of my career, and I saw no legal or ethical problem with working at the college during my last two years in the Legislature.
As many readers know, some in the media quickly began questioning the propriety of my decision. Ultimately, I decided that I owed it to my colleagues in the Florida House to resign from my position at the college. Particularly in light of the historic challenges facing our state, I could not allow controversy over my private employment to distract the Legislature from its service to our constituents.
I fully respect any person's right to hold an opinion on my decision to work at the college, but fairness demands that such opinions be informed by the facts. In my view, the most important fact here is that I have always pursued my duties as a legislator without any regard for my own private interests, including my interest in being gainfully employed and providing for my family.
It's true that last year I supported the college's successful efforts to obtain accelerated funding for construction projects. The money for those projects came from a fund that, by law, can only be used for school construction funding. In other words, there was no choice to be made between the college's projects and, for example, K-12 classrooms, law enforcement, or health care for the poor. Moreover, the decision to fund the college's projects is not one that I could or did make on my own. The state's budget was developed during a lengthy, open and deliberative process, and it only became law after it was approved by majorities of both houses of the Legislature and by a governor with line-item veto authority. By advocating that the college be allocated a portion of the school construction money that is spent throughout the state, I was doing my best to help an institution that's vital to providing educational opportunity and spurring economic development in our region. That's exactly the type of work that the voters sent me to Tallahassee to do.
My wife and I grew up in Okaloosa County, and we've raised our daughters here. We love our community. For two decades, I've fought hard for my constituents, among other things helping to see that our region gets its fair share of education dollars and transportation funding. To ensure that northwest Florida has a seat at the table when key decisions are made, I've put in the extra work necessary to rise to a position of leadership in the Legislature.
What's most important, though, is that I've never forgotten the trust placed in me by the voters and by my colleagues. And I've always conducted myself with honor and integrity. I can only pray that, when passions cool, the truth about my record and about the way I've lived my life will count for more than the cynicism and innuendo that have had such disproportionate influence in recent weeks.
Ray Sansom is speaker of the Florida House of Representatives.