Jim Norman has a hard enough time understanding local issues as a Hillsborough County commissioner. But that didn't stop him last week from a foray into national issues, blasting the new federal health care law as "a socialism takeover." He ultimately persuaded a Republican board majority to back the lawsuit brought by Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum — a Republican also seeking higher office — to try to overturn the law.
Let's deal first with Norman's ignorance and hypocrisy. Tarring medical care for Americans as "socialism" is rich coming from a career politician who has been living off the taxpayers' dime for the past 19 years. The purpose of health care reform is to cover more uninsured Americans and to bring down both public and private spending by expanding the economies of scale. What solution does Norman have for the crisis? And he sure wasn't bellyaching about "socialism" back in the 1990s when the county turned to taxpayers to build a football stadium for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
In Norman's own community, the law would extend insurance to at least 107,000 people who do not have it. Hundreds of thousands who are already covered would no longer face lifetime caps on care and could not be denied insurance because of pre-existing conditions. Tens of thousands of young adults could piggyback onto a parent's policy, a solid lifeline as the economy recovers. Washington would also spend tens of millions of dollars locally for community health centers and to cover the losses hospitals face from delivering uncompensated care.
Then there is the larger point: Are things running so smoothly at County Center that board members have the luxury to indulge themselves in partisan national politics?
Hillsborough has no leader; its administrator and county attorney were suspended amid a criminal probe into e-mail snooping and secret pay raises. The county has yet to roll out a jobs strategy or to balance the budget amid a deficit that could reach another $20 million. The commission, despite three years of talk, has yet to put a transportation package before voters. Nor has it recovered nearly $500,000 spent defending Commissioner Kevin White in his losing sexual harassment case. The county's image is so bad that other area governments have all but ruled out any attempt to consolidate services or operations.
Rome is burning and Norman — the face of local government for a generation — is riding off to preach to Washington about the big, bad bureaucracy. No wonder so many Hillsborough residents are so desperate for a leader that they are willing to gamble on creating a county mayor.