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  1. Opinion

Haridopolos plots and pouts

Published Feb. 2, 2012

This is probably the predictable result when you have a Florida Senate presided over by a petulant crybaby angry over not getting his way.

Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-The Blue Boy of Apalachee Parkway, got his pantaloons in a wad because one of his minions had the audacity to commit Tallahassee's most egregious of mortal sins — an act of actual governance.

And for that, fellow Republican Sen. Mike Fasano was stripped of his leadership epaulets and banished from his post as chairman of a budget subcommittee that oversees prisons.

Just what was Fasano's treason? That he attempted to voice his opinion on privatizing prisons. Oh, the treacherous heresy of it all!

Fasano has been quite vocal in his opposition to an effort by Gov. Rick Scott and his Senate Renfield to privatize 26 South Florida prisons and work camps. The New Port Richey senator suspects this is little more than a political air kiss to the Geo Group and the Corrections Corporation of America, deep-pocketed private sector penal colony titans.

If the privatization deal goes through, the two companies would occupy vast tracks of public land, make millions of dollars and only be responsible for guarding the less dangerous and healthiest prisoners. The state would still be responsible for the criminal dregs, the sickest, the elderly and most expensive of inmates to house.

Whatever made Fasano think this was a sweetheart deal?

It was probably just the subtlest of hints that the prison privatization legislation was more greased up than Hulk Hogan when Haridopolos tried to fast track the package through the Senate with less due diligence than the captain of the Costa Concordia.

So much for a sober, deliberate, transparent legislative process. Apparently, President Snagglepuss didn't bother to read his own book, Florida Legislative History and Processes — for which he was paid $152,000 by Brevard Community College — a soporific ode on how Tallahassee works. And now we know. Not very well.

Fasano proposed a far more sensible one-year fiscal study of the merits of turning over a sizeable chunk of the state's corrections system to less accountable private sector corporations.

Of particular concern was Scott's claim that privatizing the prisons would result in savings of between $16 million and $30 million, which Fasano disputes when you factor in the financial impact on families and communities of eliminating the jobs of as many as 4,000 corrections officers.

A full, open public hearing might have put some of Fasano's issues to rest. Instead, Haridopolos was more preoccupied with pouting and plotting.

But Fasano was hardly alone in exposing Haridopolos as little more than a hot walker for the governor and corporate interests. Four other fellow Republican senators, Jack Latvala, Paula Dockery, and former sheriffs Charlie Dean and Steve Oelrich shared the view that in matters of public safety, outsourcing the job to the private sector is not a very bright idea.

And let's face it, in Tallahassee, not very bright ideas are produced at a Whitman's Sampler assembly line pace.

Fasano lamented his political cement shoes treatment by Haridopolos, noting: "It's unfortunate when leaders of the Senate don't lose like gentlemen." Close, but not quite.

What's unfortunate is when leaders of the Senate don't lose like adults.

You knew when Latvala forced the Senate president to promise not to bring up the prison privatization issue without advance notice that Haridopolos had managed to acquire a Tallahassee reputation as the sort of chap who, if you found him sitting at the next barstool, you wouldn't leave your change unattended while you hit the men's room.

Do you get the feeling there is less mutual trust in the Florida Senate chamber than the New York Jets locker room?

Haridopolos justified treating one of the more populist senators as if he was a disloyal apostate because Fasano wasn't "rowing in the right direction."

Is that so? Fasano was stripped of his chairmanship because he did the job he was elected to do, to represent his constituents and look out for the greater interests of the state.

How does asking legitimate questions about the financial viability of privatizing the state's prisons rise to the level of "not rowing in the right direction," especially if the author of "Wee Willie Winkie Explains Tallahassee" wants to steer the boat over Niagara Falls?

Fasano may have lost his leadership position. But he still has his self-respect, which is more than the obsequious special interest supernumerary who stabbed him in the back can say for himself.

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