Friday, April 20, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: For Greer, prison and unanswered questions

Former Republican Party of Florida chairman Jim Greer deserved to go to prison for stealing money from the party, and the 18-month sentence he received Wednesday is appropriate. The sentence sends a message that even the state's most powerful political figures are accountable, and it recognizes that Greer was far from the only prominent Republican behaving badly. Yet the conclusion of the criminal case remains unsatisfying and leaves disturbing questions unanswered.

For example, Greer abruptly pleaded guilty last month to five felony charges without a plea deal after long promising to reveal more of the party's dirty secrets at trial. Why?

Greer and his wife regularly complained that the scandal had left them deserted by longtime friends and broke. Yet Greer suddenly showed up in court with a new lawyer in February and has repaid the state party $65,000. Where did the money come from?

Greer was charged with creating a secret company that contracted with the state Republican Party to raise money while he was chairman. Who knew about that deal? And what really happened during a 2008 trip to the Bahamas that included Greer, then-Gov. Charlie Crist, billionaire and former party finance chairman Harry Sargeant III and dozens of large Republican donors?

Without a trial, the answers may never be known — and that is just the way powerful Republicans want it. Among those scheduled to testify were Crist, the Republican-turned-Democrat who is considering running for his old job; former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux, Crist's former chief of staff; and prominent Republican legislators. But even without a trial, the depth of the reckless spending, poor judgment and arrogance exposed by the Greer scandal has stained the Republican Party and some of the state's most prominent political figures.

Crist can expect more questions about his poor judgment. He says he didn't know Greer created the company to raise money for the party. But he hand-picked Greer as chairman, and there was plenty of evidence that Greer was misbehaving and that the state party was out of control. Then there is Sargeant, who previously gave money to Greer. If Greer was paid to plead guilty and given money to repay the state party, Sargeant would be a likely benefactor. Sargeant won't talk and has his own issues, including a federal investigation into accusations his shipping business overcharged the Pentagon by more than $200 million.

Orlando Circuit Judge Marc Lubet went lower than the sentencing guidelines and rejected the prosecutors' request for a 3 ½-year prison sentence for Greer. It is a reasonable punishment that reflects that Greer pleaded guilty, paid restitution and is far from the only bad actor in this mess. Whether Greer's prison sentence is harsh enough to permanently change the culture in Tallahassee is less certain.

Gov. Rick Scott has no connection to this episode, and legislators are pursuing campaign reforms. Yet the legislation does not make the state political parties more transparent or accountable for their fundraising, and it actually opens the money spigot for political action committees. The former state Republican Party chairman is now a convicted felon and headed to prison. If that does not make clear the dangers of secrecy and an unlimited flow of big money into state politics, nothing will.

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Editorial: When they visit Natureís Classroom, kids are right where they belong

Editorial: When they visit Natureís Classroom, kids are right where they belong

The Hillsborough school district planted a fruitful seed with the opening of Natureís Classroom five decades ago on the cypress-lined banks of the Hillsborough River northeast of Tampa. ē The lessons taught there to some 17,000 sixth graders each yea...
Published: 04/20/18
Editorial: Why single-member districts would be bad for Hillsborough commission

Editorial: Why single-member districts would be bad for Hillsborough commission

Anyone looking to make Hillsborough County government bigger, costlier, more dysfunctional and less of a regional force should love the idea that Commissioner Sandy Murman rolled out this week. She proposes enlarging the seven-member board to nine, e...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Editorial: Improving foster care in Hillsborough

Editorial: Improving foster care in Hillsborough

A new foster care provider in Hillsborough County is poised to take over operations in May, only months after its predecessor was fired for what was alleged to be a pattern of failing to supervise at-risk children in its care. Many of the case manage...
Published: 04/18/18

Another voice: Back to postal reform

President Donald Trump is angry at Amazon for, in his tweeted words, "costing the United States Post Office massive amounts of money for being their Delivery Boy." Yet in more recent days, Trump has at least channeled his feelings in what could prove...
Published: 04/17/18
Updated: 04/18/18
Editorial: Congress should protect independence of special counsel

Editorial: Congress should protect independence of special counsel

A bipartisan Senate bill clarifying that only the attorney general or a high-ranking designee could remove a special prosecutor would send an important message amid President Donald Trump’s attacks on the investigation into Russia’s inter...
Published: 04/16/18
Updated: 04/17/18
Editorial: Don’t fall for Constitution Revision Commission’s tricks

Editorial: Don’t fall for Constitution Revision Commission’s tricks

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission has wasted months as a politically motivated scam masquerading as a high-minded effort to ask voters to improve the state’s fundamental document. The commission on Monday added amendments to the Nove...
Published: 04/16/18
Editorial: Rednerís court win on medical marijuana sends message

Editorial: Rednerís court win on medical marijuana sends message

Florida regulators have done far too little to make voter-approved medical marijuana widely available for patients suffering from chronic illnesses. A circuit court judge in Tallahassee ruled last week there is a price for that obstruction, finding t...
Published: 04/15/18
Updated: 04/16/18
Editorial: Hillsborough commission should quit expanding urban area

Editorial: Hillsborough commission should quit expanding urban area

Any movement on modernizing local transportation is welcome, even small steps like the million dollars the state recently approved to design a Tampa Bay regional transit plan.But the region wonít make any progress on transportation, its single most p...
Published: 04/13/18
Updated: 04/18/18

Editorial: Fight harder on citrus greening

A new report by scientists advising the federal government finds no breakthrough discovery for managing citrus greening, a chronic disease killing Floridaís citrus industry. This should be a wake-up call to bring greater resources to the fight.The re...
Published: 04/11/18
Updated: 04/13/18

Editorial: Floridians should focus more on health

A new snapshot of the nationís health shows a mixed picture for Florida and the challenges that residents and the health care community face in improving the quality of life.Americans are living longer, exercising more and doing better at managing th...
Published: 04/11/18
Updated: 04/13/18