The Friday night meltdown of the Florida Legislature laid bare the immaturity of legislative leaders and their lack of respect for openness, fairness and their own colleagues. It took a cadre of seasoned senators - including several from Tampa Bay - to rally a bipartisan majority to put a stop to House Speaker Dean Cannon's abuse of power and Senate President Mike Haridopolos' acquiescence. The action was too late to make much of a difference on policy, but it sent a clear signal that even a veto-proof Republican majority will not stand by and let its leadership run roughshod. That's good for all Floridians.
Two years after former House Speaker Ray Sansom was indicted for sneaking a project into the state budget on behalf of a campaign contributor, transparency should be embraced in Tallahassee. But for all their pledges of openness, Cannon, R-Winter Park, and Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, allowed the state's 2011-12 budget to become a catchall for stashing special interest legislation that wouldn't stand the light of day.
The most egregious example - exposed thus far - came April 29 when Senate leaders agreed to amend a budget conforming bill to include a House plan to eviscerate the state's growth management law. Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, walked out of the conference committee meeting in protest and complained on the Senate floor about leadership's tactics.
Such circuitous methods were replayed again and again until the various conforming bills swelled to nearly 2,200 pages, more than five times the size just three years ago. Most members never saw them until Thursday. That prompted Sens. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico, and Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, to complain on the Senate floor Friday, drawing a rebuke from Haridopolos' rules chairman.
But clearly frustration was growing. Sen. Dennis Jones, R-Seminole, urged colleagues Friday night to defeat a budget conforming bill that would deregulate several professions but had never been heard by a Senate committee. All but Haridopolos and his five lieutenants sided with Jones. That set off a series of events that sent the session into an ugly overtime that left Cannon acting like a bully and Haridopolos looking dazed and outflanked.
Now Haridopolos - who had pushed to end the session so he could start campaigning for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination - has a choice. He can retrench with loyal staff and senators. Or he can send the signal to Cannon and senators that things will be different going forward, particularly as the Legislature takes on redrawing the state's legislative and congressional district maps. Haridopolos' best bid for winning a new job from Floridians is demonstrating in his current office that he stands for openness and good government.