1. Opinion

Ruth: Tallahassee: Breeding ground for corruption

Published Aug. 13, 2014

Smart as these folks are, you don't need to be highfalutin political science scholars like Filipe Campante and Quoc-Anh Do to expect that the more isolated a state capital is from the public, the greater likelihood its public officials will be more ethically compromised than a reunion of James Bond villains.

That's why, translated from the Seminole tongue, Tallahassee means: "You have the right to remain silent."

In a recent piece for the American Economic Review, Campante of Harvard University and Do, from the Institute of Political Studies in Paris, concluded "Isolated capital cities display worse quality of governance of endogenous institutional choice based on the idea elites are constrained by the threat of rebellion, and that this threat is rendered less effective by distance from the seat of political power."

That's not just an academic theory. It's a rather verbose motto for the state of Florida.

Or to get away from all the ivory tower jibber-jabber, the more these charlatans can hide from the public scrutiny the easier it is for them to become pole dancers for special interests who want to jam money into their garter belts.

And it also explains why occasional efforts to create a more accessible state capital away from Tallahassee have been an exercise in futility. That makes sense. Wouldn't this be a bit like someone on the FBI's 10 most wanted list posting their travel itinerary on Facebook?

With the exception of Juneau, Alaska, a city inaccessible by road that cannot even be seen from Sarah Palin's porch, Tallahassee — which is Seminole for "Mr. Jury Foreman, do you have a verdict?" — remains a you-can't-get-there-from-here capital of the nation's fourth largest state.

Does this make any sense? Sure, if you are the governor or a member of the Florida Legislature and the last thing you want is to make it easier for those great unwashed saps in the body politic to see you in action rolling over for a Snausage and a tummy rub from a capital lobbyist grifter.

Campante and Do could have easily been writing specifically about Tallahassee — which is Seminole for: "A check! For me? Why, you should have!" — when they wrote: "We also find isolated capitals are associated with more money in state-level campaigns."

Do ya think?

Campante and Do are being too gentle.

Florida government and politics are more than "associated." The governor's office, the Cabinet and the Florida Legislature make Nevada's Mustang Ranch brothel look like a convent.

To be sure, it would make sense to relocate the capital, which if the Florida Legislature had its way would wind up in Montana.

But as a practical matter, completely abandoning Tallahassee — which is Seminole for "I refuse to answer on the grounds ..." — would be problematic.

First, it would require moving out of the crime against architecture, 22-story Capitol building, which looks like (for good reason) an immense middle digit dominating the city skyline.

Still, it wouldn't hurt if the Legislature's annual sessions, which are really little more than an influence peddler sweat lodge, were conducted in a central locale so more average residents have an opportunity to attend and observe their elected representatives in the full flower of their slavish devotion to their special interest minders.

It is arguably true that the average Floridian would be gobsmacked at the sight of the capitol rotunda during a legislative session teaming with hundreds of lobbyists scurrying back and forth like drones between the House and Senate chambers as they manipulate, dictate and obfuscate pending legislation to benefit their deep-pocketed clients.

About the only representative democracy going on here is the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, and then it's every elected shill on the make for themselves.

Tampa and Orlando have convention centers that could comfortably accommodate the House and Senate, thus giving any citizen access to see their elected officeholder in inaction.

Would a field trip legislative session ever happen? Of course not.

Why spoil a good thing? Why bother to actually govern in the accessible sunshine when Tallahassee — which is Seminole for "No comment" — offers the perfect long-distance cover for all manner of political mischief?

Campante and Do argue isolation is the perfect breeding ground for corruption.

And what more fertile crescent for shadiness than the faraway land of Tallahassee — which is Seminole for "Nolo Contendere."


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