1. Opinion

Ruth: Careful fooling with the Florida Constitution

Published Dec. 21, 2016

By the time this constitutional pie fight ends, Florida may have to rename itself Turkmenistan-on-the-Gulf. Feel free to weigh in. But not that free.

Every 20 years the People's Junta of Tallahassee is required to create a 37-member Constitution Revision Commission charged with putting various amendments on the ballot to update — or perhaps blow up — Florida's most vital legal document.

The last time Florida went through this exercise, state government was politically divided, with Democrat Lawton Chiles in the Governor's Mansion and Republicans in control of the Legislature. This time around, Republican Gov. Rick Scott will get to pick 15 CRC members, while Republican House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Republican Senate President Joe Negron each get to name nine seats on the panel. The rest of the cast of the constitutional wedgie about to be administered to the public will include three members named by Florida Supreme Court Justice Jorge Labarga and the participation of Attorney General Pam Bondi.

Let's cut right to chase. We're all doomed.

This is not some idle, make-work committee. The CRC wields great power to unilaterally place amendments on the 2018 ballot that could reshape the Constitution. That way, it can cast aside measures both the Legislature and citizen initiatives have voted into law. And the CRC has the authority to draft the ballot language for any proposed amendments (requiring 60 percent approval for passage) it wishes without prior review from either the Florida Legislature or the Florida Supreme Court.

And somewhere Saddam Hussein is well pleased.

It would be nice to think the CRC will take a civically high-minded approach to its work. It would also be nice to think we'll have world peace, end poverty and find a cure for every disease. Naivete. So cute.

Given the CRC is the Rosemary's Baby of Tallahassee, a sweat lodge of ideology controlled by big sugar, big insurance, big development, big whatchagot and — always — very big guns, not to mention tea party grumps, the cat-stroking Koch brothers and people who believe Breitbart News is the New Testament of truth, a revised Florida Constitution could look like something cooked up by the alt-right meets Torquemada.

Before he has even picked his choices for the CRC, Corcoran has made it clear he expects the star chamber of the Constitution to address issues such as school choice and eliminating Fair District amendments approved by voters to prevent incumbency and political party affiliation from driving the redrawing of congressional and legislative districts.

This democracy piffle only goes so far. Imagine the indignity of Corcoran being expected to conduct the work on behalf of the public by having to explain under oath why given legislative maps favoring Republican candidates look like blood-splatter evidence.

Both Corcoran and Negron are plenty steamed over a 2006 Florida Supreme Court ruling that determined the state's program that allowed students in failing schools to receive taxpayer funded vouchers to attend private schools was unconstitutional. The court reasoned the state Constitution requires a "uniform" system of public schools for all students. Tyranny run amok!

How dare those radical subversives on the Florida Supreme Kangaroo Court apply the state Constitution to rule that public money ought not be drained away from public schools to help bolster the bottom lines of private schools, which aren't even required to meet the same accountability standards as public schools?

Because of the high court's delusional insistence on following junk like the Constitution, Corcoran has mumbled about having the CRC ponder a provision that would impose term limits on the state's judges, including those picky, picky, picky Supremes.

"The reason we have the demeaning of the will of the people is because they (the Florida Supreme Court) have positions for life," Corcoran pouted to the Tampa Bay Times. Actually, it's not the will of the people the court demeaned; rather, it simply ruled against the will of the Florida Legislature that passes unconstitutional laws.

It's called checks and balances, which even Corcoran (who is supposed to be a lawyer) ought to understand.

That's the way a constitutional democracy is supposed to work, even in Florida — for the moment at least.