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Legislative foolery a tad tacky during these times

Published Sep. 10, 2005

First they had to look really stupid _ our Legislature posing as a modern day version of Dumb and Dumber.

Then they had to realize how bad all the bickering and name calling looked in a country that has been rocked by the Sept. 11 attacks and a continuing fear of anthrax.

That's what had to happen before our legislative leaders agreed to make a genuine attempt to fix the state's serious budget problems. Some people need to be hit in the head with a 2 by 4 before paying attention.

The Democrats criticized Gov. Jeb Bush for calling legislators into a second special session before they had a budget agreement, but I don't think Senate President John McKay and House Speaker Tom Feeney would have agreed on anything without first being subjected to public humiliation.

These two men obviously don't like each other.

And whatever agreement they have now for the session beginning Nov. 27 may be pretty fragile. When Feeney and McKay gathered with the governor to announce it Tuesday, they didn't stick around to answer questions. They practically fled from reporters, which might lead one to speculate that their agreement can't stand up to a few serious questions.

The kind of game playing that went on in the first special session last month is not for these times. Florida and the rest of the country have serious problems that need serious attention. Political gamesmanship looks tacky.

Republicans took over the Legislature in 1996 and revamped the rules, making it a far different and much more civilized place. But they've been sliding backward ever since, looking far more like the Democrats they replaced.

This does not bode well for the future. In January these guys will return to start drawing little lines on maps. This may not seem important to many of you, but it is life and death to legislators and members of Congress. A little line on a map can mean election or political oblivion.

Several legislators are pinning their hopes for future office on this reapportionment process. Feeney wants to go to Washington, so he's hoping for a nice district surrounding his Oviedo home. McKay is not likely to agree unless he gets something in return.

Pinellas County and much of Hillsborough County stand to lose influence because the rest of the state has grown faster. Thus the districts will grow larger to take in more people.

Every 10 years legislators must redraw the district lines to evenly apportion the state's population for state legislative and congressional districts.

In 2002 the optimum state House district will have 133,186 people, up from 107,816 in 1990. The optimum Senate district will have 399,559 people, up from 323,446. The average congressional district will increase to 639,295, up from 562,519.

Overall, Florida grew by about 23.5 percent in the decade between 1990 and 2000, but Pinellas County, a peninsula surrounded by the Gulf of Mexico and Tampa Bay, grew by only 8.2 percent. That means the size of its current House and Senate districts will have to expand to take in the required number of people in each district.

A similar situation exists in Miami-Dade County, which had a growth rate of only 1.1 percent.

Areas like Spring Hill, Dade City-Zephyrhills, Citrus County and some parts of eastern Hillsborough County grew faster than urban Pinellas and Hillsborough and will gain in legislative and congressional influence.

It's far too early to predict where the new lines will go, but it's safe to predict there will be blood on the floor before it's over.

Things are going backward at the Florida Supreme Court, too. A year ago the justices were fielding important questions on the election of a president of the United States.

This week the question involved the treatment of pregnant pigs.

From pregnant chad to pregnant pigs.

Go figure.