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NOW is time to vow to set things aright in Capitol

"Remember in November!"

Voters say those words in disgust now and then, especially when they realize how much they disagree with the actions of the Florida Legislature.

Maybe what sets them off is pollution, or higher phone rates, or grandstanding on the Terri Schiavo case, or the budget for public schools. Whatever it is, it makes voters mad enough to vow to fire their legislator.

Remember in November!

Yet here is a little secret. Here is one of the basic problems with our democracy:

We can't remember in November.

By the time November comes, most voters don't have a real choice. Most incumbent legislators have no real opposition.

For one thing, incumbents get to draw the borders of their own districts.

Most districts these days are either safe for the Republicans, or safe for the Democrats. A rare few are competitive.

For another thing, almost all incumbents have more campaign money than Midas.

The result was that in the 2002 general election, out of the 120 seats in our state House, exactly two incumbents were defeated.

Two.

Not even those two did anything special to tick off the voters. They were simply Democrats whose districts got redrawn by the Republicans. (In the Senate, one incumbent, a Democrat, lost the same way.)

So the actual number of incumbents in the Florida Legislature who got beat in 2002 for displeasing the voters was . . . zero. Zero.

That is weird. It is un-American. The framers of this nation expected a healthy turnover in elected offices, and not merely by voluntary retirement or term limits.

Should we give up hope, then?

Maybe not just yet.

All this proves is that November is a little late for remembering.

July _ maybe July's better.

July is when citizens in Florida file their papers to run for public office.

If I were in charge, candidate qualifying would be the occasion for a big festival, celebrating our democracy. Everybody who filed would get to march in a big parade and everybody else would get the day off, provided they went down to the parade and cheered.

And yet, maybe even July is too late. Maybe the time for remembering has to be earlier.

Like, say, now.

Remember in February!

This is the time when those Floridians who are unhappy with the Legislature ought to do something about it.

You, maybe. Or that person you know who would be good.

But first, listen to this.

If you run, or you get somebody else to run, it will be the hardest thing in the world. You have to organize. You have to ask people for money, even strangers.

You have to be smart. If you're just one more schmoe who blathers about how we need to run government "like a business," and "cut waste," without offering any tough specifics, then just stay home. Ditto if you are in favor of "better schools" but don't have a clue of how to get them or pay for them.

Here's another danger. If you become credible, then people from Tallahassee will come to see you. They will sound like good people. If you are a Republican or a Democrat, you will think they are good because they have the same party label as you. They will want to give you money and run your campaign. And if you let them, you will become just like them, and you won't even know it.

To top it all off, brothers and sisters, if you do become a threat, the other party is going to crucify you. Forget that stuff about how "the media" keep good people out of politics. The media don't do squat. The parties have entire basements full of researchers whose job is to dig up slime against the other side.

And yet, you still ought to do this. You, or that good person you know.

It doesn't matter if you're Republican or Democrat or Libertarian or Green or no-party. It doesn't matter if you're conservative, liberal, a strong anti-taxer or a big liberal bleeding-heart. All I ask is that you love Florida's environment and the public schools, and that you promise not to side with bullies who use their money to buy favor in the Legislature.

Remember in February! Do it.

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