Sadly, Florida politics has even more of the same

Published Aug. 18, 2013

This is what you might call a conflict of interest.

You remember education commissioner Tony Bennett, right? You remember he resigned a few weeks ago after emails surfaced that indicated he ordered changes to school grading guidelines in Indiana that just happened to benefit a prominent political donor?

Turns out, that wasn't the only cozy relationship Bennett had with business interests. The Indianapolis Star has reported that Bennett's wife was hired earlier this year by Charter Schools USA as one of its regional directors.

To be fair, Tina Bennett has been a teacher, principal and education consultant, so her resume would certainly seem to indicate she is qualified to work in the field.

The issue is that Charter Schools USA is the same outfit recommended by Bennett to take over three public schools in Indianapolis when he was Indiana's school superintendent. So that means a for-profit charter school company based in Florida got a lucrative taxpayer-funded contract in Indiana while Bennett was in charge and then, coincidentally, hired his wife.

This is what you might call a convenient reversal.

In 2011, Gov. Rick Scott whacked $5 million from the state budget that was earmarked for improvements at a rowing facility in Sarasota.

He whacked it despite an economic study suggesting the expansion could mean 1,000 new jobs and more than $100 million a year in hotel and retail sales. He whacked it despite a state senator insisting the economic impact would be triple what a new biomedical laboratory in the area would generate.

A year later, Scott changed his mind and approved the $5 million. He doubled down this year with another $5 million.

As the Times reported on Friday, Scott's change of heart coincided with about $200,000 in political donations the past two years from developers with financial stakes in the rowing center.

This is what you might call tricks of the trade.

Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford has multiple sources of income, but everyone seems a little fuzzy when it comes to explaining what he does for his paychecks.

One company name listed on past financial disclosure forms has not existed in Florida for a half-dozen years. Weatherford has since added the company's Texas name, but it actually does business in Florida under a third name.

And then there's the Texas company where Weatherford was a founding member and former director. That outfit has gotten more than $800,000 as a contractor for Florida's state-run insurance company in recent years. Weatherford says he has never received income from the company, and his wife replaced him on the board.

If Weatherford is tired of the scrutiny of the speaker job and the difficulty in juggling outside income sources, he should take heart in the fortunes of the man he replaced.

Dean Cannon's brand-spanking-new lobbying firm reported more than $1.5 million in business in the first six months of the year.

This is what you might call schmoozing.

The Florida Republican party recently went all the way to the Bronx to hold a fundraiser at Yankee Stadium, which at least seems more productive than Florida Democrats who are trying to raise money at a Depeche Mode concert next month.

Alas, all of this is what you might generously call politics as usual in Florida.