Sen. J.D. Alexander was not elected statewide. Nor did his colleagues in the Florida Senate pick him as their leader. But when the annual session ends Friday, the Lake Wales Republican will stand as the undisputed king of shameless power plays that are parochial, petty or both.
The latest stunt by Alexander, a citrus heir whose companies control thousands of acres, is particularly vindictive. He wants to force the Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority to turn over $69 million from a lawsuit settlement to cover some of its debt to the state — contrary to long-standing agreements. The last-minute change could put the expressway authority out of business. Why did Alexander insist? To punish Rep. Rich Glorioso, R-Plant City, who championed the successful, if shortsighted, House plan to raid $160 million in transportation funds to balance the state budget.
Alexander already has used his power as chairman of the Senate's budget and elections committees to force the University of South Florida's new pharmacy program to Lakeland instead of Tampa; to push a hefty new property tax break that would benefit large landholders like his companies; and to collect projects for his district. He helped orchestrate the rejection Tuesday of Gov. Charlie Crist's appointments to the Public Service Commission. About the only visible checks on Alexander came when Crist vetoed his bill that would have made fundraising by legislative leaders even less transparent, and when the House refused to concur with his push to give more power to the chief financial officer — the office Senate President Jeff Atwater is seeking.
Alexander is a shrewd, fearless and arrogant negotiator. His efforts to force the House to spend more of the anticipated federal stimulus dollars are in the state's interest. But too often he served his own interests rather than the public's. Alexander has two more years in the Legislature. Floridians beware.