All checks, no balances | Feb. 27
Just what is Haridopolos teaching?
I found it ironic that this series described the incredible power, and abuse of that power, of House Speaker Dean Cannon and Senate President and U.S. senator-in-waiting Mike Haridopolos. Then on Monday, Haridopolos is highlighted in an article about his $75,000-a-year job teaching University of Florida students the legislative "tricks of the trade." One would hope that he is teaching them the need for moral values in the Legislature. However, he may be teaching them the value of "steering millions of dollars in campaign cash to the political campaigns of newcomers who owe their elections" to him.
It is very important for our college-educated future politicians to learn the art of assigning "pecking-order status" and picking favorites for the best office and parking spaces. Then there are the lessons Haridopolos must teach on how to dole out punishment to those legislators who have the nerve to think independently and actually read bills before voting their conscience. I am not sure how comfortable I am about the lessons our future leaders are learning about the value of intelligent debate and political compromise for the good of the citizens as a whole. Is Haridopolos teaching our students the use of power and how to use the millions of dollars from the special interests to be doled out by the powers-that-be to their lackeys?
Tom Paslay, Homosassa
How it really works
I believe many of us "lowly yet educated" voters absolutely know how many of our state legislators view their positions and the people that they rule. As a voter, I would almost forgive their current term limits on several conditions, including overhauling campaign finance regulations and the ways our politicians campaign.
Every politician wishing to run for a seat in government would be allowed to campaign for one month prior to both primary and general elections, and there would be a cap on the amount of money each political party may spend on its politicians.
Campaign expenditures for political parties would extend to political broadcasts, advertising, unsolicited material to electors, policy documents, market research and canvassing, media, publicity, rallies, events, and to any third party that would have otherwise been paid or counted as a campaign expenditure or incurred by the party.
It is absurd that our lawmakers are taking our time and campaigning when they should be working for us. While limiting the amount of time for campaigning, you could limit the amount of time for donations. Political parties must make all of their finances public. Candidates for elections, however, have spending limits that they cannot exceed, and they may not incur personal election expenses of more than an amount to be set and followed by an election commission.
If I were a legislator in Tallahassee and I read Mary Ellen Klas' article, I would have to ask myself why I was a politician. Klas eloquently writes, "The risk of being outspoken is worse than being ostracized — it means their proposals could die — because term limits, the skyrocketing cost of political campaigns and legislative inexperience concentrates power into the hands of presiding officers who may or may not tolerate dissent."
It is apparent that things need to change up in Tally Land.
Kerry Boehm, Port Richey
It's hard to argue that the politically motivated, disrespectful union-busting bill that Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, filed isn't a shot at revenge after losing the SB 6 battle to the teachers union last year. After a Republican wave swept a veto-proof majority into both chambers, Thrasher is poised to finally get the merit pay legislation he so passionately coveted.
Someone forgot to tell Mr. Thrasher that patience is a virtue. Instead of celebrating prospects for his long-awaited overhaul of public education, he went on the attack by filing SB 830, which would make it illegal for public employers to deduct union dues out of employee paychecks. This is an unnecessary power grab that serves no purpose but to level revenge on an organization that handed him a stinging loss.
Our state is facing great challenges. We have an unemployment rate that is unacceptably high, a Medicaid system that comprises almost 30 percent of the state budget, and our teacher pay is embarrassing. Taxpayers don't pay Thrasher to use the government's resources to play political warfare with his opponents. When you're done pouting, please get back to work.
Daniel Rubin, Tampa
Fixing a broken government editorial, Feb. 27
More reforms needed
Your assessment that Florida state government is broken is spot on. That breakdown started with the Republican takeover in 1996 and has continued unabated. Your solutions, however, are at best patches that will not serve the long-term best interests of Floridians.
What is really needed in campaign finance reform is a firm limit on the amount of money that can be spent on a particular campaign: $25,000 for a state House race, $50,000 for a state Senate race and $5 million for a statewide race. That would cure many — if not most — of the current system abuses.
Your solutions for strengthening the ethics laws would allow politicians to continue to snub their noses at the Ethics Commission. As long as the commission takes an average of one year to complete an investigation, it will be looked upon as a paper tiger.
As for lengthening term limits as suggested by Rep. Rick Kriseman of St. Petersburg, this is the most self-serving proposal of the year. All of the negatives that you claim were caused by term limits were plainly evident in the Legislature prior to the voter-approved limits. What's really needed is a limit on the lobbyists and special interests that rule the roost in Tallahassee.
Robert W. Schultz, St. Petersburg
Campaign finance is protected by the First Amendment under free speech. Ethics laws can be strengthened by mandatory incarceration for offenders, loss of pensions and bans from holding public office again.
As far as term limits, the federal government needs to have the same system as Florida. Politicians are like fish. They both smell after a time.
Gary J. Laird, St. Petersburg
Faulty rail report
As the leading organization advancing high-speed rail in America, the U.S. High Speed Rail Association challenges one of the main arguments that Gov. Rick Scott cites in rejecting the Tampa-to-Orlando high-speed rail project.
Proclaiming that capital cost overruns could be an astounding $3 billion, the governor relies on a faulty and biased report by the libertarian Reason Foundation. It compares the estimated cost per mile to build a segment of California's high-speed rail project. But the building costs are hardly comparable because California has difficult terrain, land use and right-of-way issues. Florida has favorable terrain, land use resolutions and a long-established right of way on the Interstate 4 median with accommodations for high-speed rail, making it the most cost effective and viable project in the nation.
Andy Kunz, Washington
Winter of our discontent Robyn Blumner, Feb. 27
Unions getting due
Ms. Blumner's reflexively pro-union article claims Republican governors are violating the "rights of public-sector unions to collective bargaining. While private-sector unions have rights to collective bargaining enshrined in the Wagner Act, no such federally guaranteed rights exist for public sector employees."
President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who signed the Wagner Act, did not believe collective bargaining was appropriate for public employees who even then enjoyed Civil Service protection. While bargaining rights were granted to federal employee unions through executive order by President John F. Kennedy in 1962, they were rescinded by the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 signed by President Jimmy Carter. This act introduced sweeping changes into civil service law, including the introduction of merit-based pay, the option to outsource work to the private sector and the limitation of collective bargaining to working conditions.
Much of the heated rhetoric in this matter stems from the Democratic Party's fear that the dissolution of public-sector unions at the state level will dry up contributions they received from state unions. They are correct in this fear, and as taxpayers we can only hope this fear is realized.
John Kriegsmann, Land O'Lakes