There are no limits to Sen. J.D. Alexander's petulance. The Senate Budget Committee chairman's demand for a mountain of records from state universities comes just weeks after his bullying failed to pry away the Lakeland branch campus from the University of South Florida. Any valid points of inquiry Alexander has are dwarfed by his abuse of his public office and his obsession to create a separate new university as his legacy.
Subtlety is not one of Alexander's strong points. His heavy-handed efforts to steal USF Polytechnic away from the university were bad enough. But his behavior has only gotten worse since the Board of Governors, which oversees the state university system, voted last month to create a deliberate process for a split that could take several years. This is a vendetta that knows no boundaries.
First, Alexander berated the student representative on the Board of Governors who dared to speak out against him and voted against the proposal. Then the Lake Wales Republican demanded an investigation of USF president Judy Genshaft and accused her of misleading the Board of Governors. He suggested the University of Florida could handle the Lakeland campus' transition to independence instead of USF. And like some sort of enforcer, he showed up at a faculty meeting on the Lakeland campus and watched silently as Genshaft addressed the group. Who is going to stand up to this intimidation?
Now Alexander has resorted to burying the university system with demands for extensive records and insisting the documents be produced before his committee hearing next month. One would think such a seasoned, smart budget chairman already would know enough about revenues, expenditures, tuition and other line items that he would not have to demand it ASAP for each of the 11 public universities. But then this exercise has nothing to do with information and everything to do with retribution.
Alexander actually has a couple of valid avenues of inquiry. For example, it came to light during the fight over the Lakeland campus that a construction contractor for the new USF Polytech campus gave the university a $1 million gift after it won the bid. Now Alexander wants to know about all donations of $50,000 or more to universities from anyone doing business with them over the last three years. That could be an awfully interesting list and raise some legitimate ethical questions. But many of the senator's other 11 issues amount to harassment.
This sort of behavior embarrasses the entire Legislature. Alexander cannot run for re-election next year because of term limits, so he has just one more legislative session to manipulate the budget to punish his perceived enemies. It's time his colleagues in the Senate stood up to him and stood for more enlightened public policy. Because this time next year, J.D. Alexander will be just another former legislator on the outside looking in.