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  1. Opinion

Ruth: Eat, drink and grab last check before the Legislature opens

Each year, Associated Industries of Florida throws a party in Tallahassee for members of the state Legislature, the media, lobbyists and staff members before the start of the session.
Each year, Associated Industries of Florida throws a party in Tallahassee for members of the state Legislature, the media, lobbyists and staff members before the start of the session.
Published Feb. 28, 2015

MARK YOUR CALENDARS and shield the children. This week marks the start of the annual gathering of Tallahassee's lobster bibs of public servants, who for 60 days will burn the midnight oil to fulfill their mandate to roll over for Florida's special interests to better ensure a generous fuzzy-wuzzy tummy rub.

Aren't they adorable?

But before the hard work of serving the lobbyists, the capital's statesmen of sushi will gather for a presession soiree put on by the Associated Industries of Florida, in which untold numbers of canapes will be sacrificed in the name of good government.

It is at this anxiously awaited yearly event that members of the Florida Legislature regard their attendance as a do-not-miss command performance of scruples on a stick.

That's because Florida has a rather goofy law that prohibits members of the Florida Legislature from accepting campaign contributions over the course of its two-month guffawmaking session. And thus we have this Potemkin Village-esque appearance of House and Senate members running around passing bills that are more often than not written by lobbyists perpetuating the illusion that everything is on the up-and-up. Stop laughing.

The annual party sponsored by the Florida Associated Confederation of Alliances, Consortiums, Cartels, Committees, Commissions, Organizations, Coalitions and Feudal Lords represents the best opportunity for the next eight weeks for your elected officials to partake at the buffet table of dead presidents.

During the Chuck E. Cheese-like slumber party of slush funds, state legislators unabashedly openly grovel for their checks from their capital benefactors. It is probably the only time in Florida's Bermuda Triangle of probity where there really is transparency in state governance.

And then, of course, Tuesday dawns and everyone starts acting as if they are Mr. Smith goes to Tallahassee. This is also the time when a fully charged-up Rick Scott, the Chevy Volt of governors, delivers his always riveting state-of-the-state address and then disappears from view until the sun sets.

It has always been axiomatic that not much happens during a legislative session until the last two or three days, when the dealmaking goes into hyperdrive. In the meantime, members can be seen purposefully scurrying back and forth between vitally important meetings of no particular consequence.

The dirty little truth about Tallahassee, which one keen observer once noted is a place confronted with California issues governed by a Mississippi legislature, is that the real power center in the Capitol is the rotunda linking the Senate and House chambers teaming with a swarm of lobbyist locusts. They drive the legislative agenda. And why not? They paid handsomely for it.

For example, it would seem logical a proposed measure to permit people with concealed carry gun permits to run around on the state's universities is a really bad idea, especially since school administrators, the Board of Governors and campus police departments all oppose the bill. Tut-tut.

But it will pass simply because the intimidating NRA has more clout. It probably won't be too much longer before a bill passes replacing kindergarten finger painting with armed toddlers taking target practice with their Glocks.

There will be tax breaks and incentives and sweet deals doled out to Florida's always politically generous corporations. But if you are among the million or so Floridians without health care, you can pretty much forget about the state accepting billions in federal dollars to expand Medicaid coverage, largely due to opposition in the Florida House. The slippery slope toward socialism, don't ya know.

Expansion of casinos? Oh everybody hates, hates, hates it. And they will continue to hate it right up until the coming day if not this year, then eventually, when the Legislature votes to rename Miami Trumpami. Those gambling interests roaming Tallahassee aren't making all those contributions to House and Senate members because they want the pelican to become the state bird.

So let the lame begin. Fetal position optional.

Contact Daniel Ruth at druth@tampabay.com.