To understand the high jinks last week involving local uber-developer Grady Pridgen and state Rep. Frank Farkas, R-St. Petersburg, it might help to take a quick walk down memory lane.
In 2001, for example, the son of a well-connected lobbyist in Tallahassee did not get into med school at the University of Florida.
Not unusual, right? Lots of kids apply to med school and don't get in.
But most kids do not have a Tallahassee lobbyist for a father. Abracadabra! The Florida Legislature, with Farkas helping out in the state House, passed a law saying the kid had to be admitted.
His career in the Legislature has this hallmark: He is shameless, literally. He never blushes no matter what he gets caught doing. This makes him the perfect instrument for anyone who needs to get something done.
Bald-faced junket to Toronto, paid for by gambling companies? Check. Higher phone rates for consumers? Check.
One year, Farkas had a bill saying health insurance for workers in Florida shouldn't have to cover mammograms, cleft palates in kids or several other things.
Farkas was in charge of the committee meeting when the bill came up. He allowed only insurance lobbyists to speak, then banged the gavel to adjourn - refusing to hear from the families of kids with cleft palates.
This has been entertaining. Yet, in each instance, it has been even more fun to hear Farkas explain how he was acting on principle.
For example, the lobbyist's kid who didn't get into med school had attended a service academy. It was a patriotic law, see? And removing mammograms and cleft palates from insurance coverage would have helped Floridians, by making their premiums cheaper.
This brings us back to the Grady Pridgen matter.
Pridgen wants to develop what has been described as one of the last big chunks of land available in Pinellas County, 133 acres near the landfill in midcounty.
(If you are thinking, "Landfill! Development! Makes perfect sense!" then you belong in office.)
Yet even by Florida and Pinellas County standards, there are still rules. There was something about actually having to figure out how much traffic the thing would generate.
So Pridgen approached Farkas, and Farkas came up with a bill that said, when you boiled it down, "Grady Pridgen does not have to follow these rules."
The only thing more dangerous than a lone legislator is when they travel in packs. Pinellas County's legislative delegation quickly voted 8-1 for Farkas' bill.
There are several reasons this was a bad idea. For one thing, it trampled on 30 years of attempts by Florida (such that they are) to make growth pay for itself.
Second, it hypocritically violated one of the Republican Party's most important principles, that big central government should not ram decisions down the throats of local communities. Imagine the precedent! No local rule, no zoning decision would ever be final as long as a big shot had buddies in the Legislature.
Most of all, this was not a proposed "law" at all, but a grant of privilege for one person. Logically, it was the same thing as saying, "Grady Pridgen does not have to obey the speed limit."
If these poopy old rules are so stupid, then they are stupid for everybody.
Our reporter Carrie Weimar revealed this deal in Thursday morning's newspaper, and before the day was done, it was dead.
Naturally, the whole thing was based on principle, not on doing a favor. Farkas said he was trying to promote "infill" for development, so that Pinellas County does not just "continue to buy citrus groves and move further and further out." (I am curious as to which direction represents "further out" for builtout Pinellas County.)
Great googly moogly! I have said it a thousand times. If advocates for education, children, the poor, the homeless, the environment and consumers really wanted to get something done in the Florida Legislature, they would figure out how to make it look like they were asking for sneaky favors.