Ruth: The best Legislature money can buy

Published Mar. 4, 2014

To you, dearly beloved gentle reader, it might appear that today marks the beginning of the Florida Legislature's annual 60-day session in which our dedicated elected public servants gather to make life better for one and all across the state regardless of race, creed, gender or economic status.

Isn't that quaint, in a McGuffey Reader sort of way?

Forgive a pinch of cynicism, but you might be better off regarding the next nine weeks of stupid that are about to commence as more along the lines of "Eight Years a Knave."

Gov. Dread Scott will deliver the always riveting State of the State address this morning before an assemblage of the Capitol's feedbag of pols.

But who knows if he will show up, since the governor thinks of himself as an international man of mystery, blacking out his official schedule so that no one has a clue where he is at any given moment. Try the Villages first and then move on to a Koch brother-to-be-named later. He'll show up, eventually.

Not to worry. If Scott decides to remain in his Naples bunker, the state's Lt. Gov. Whatshisname, R-Judge Crater, can fill in if he is not engaged in his official duty of untangling the governor's paper clips.

Then the House and Senate will get down to the serious business of legislatively napalming the environment, imploding public education, expanding gambling and otherwise pandering to any special interest lobbyist with a bulging checkbook looking for a home.

And what about you, precious reader? You are so very much burnt, crumbling, mold-infested toast.

In advance of this year's auction house of influence-peddling, House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-The Errorist of the All, was adamant that the fact that Tallahassee is awash in unlimited money flowing into members' political committees has absolutely no influence on shaping legislation or advancing the special interests of the state's deep-pocketed big shots.

"I don't think there's a nexus there (between wads of money and buying the legislation du jour)," the speaker told the Times/Herald bureau's Mary Ellen Klas, which might suggest the next big Netflix series focusing on Tallahassee political intrigue ought to be titled, "House of Canards."

Klas reported on the tsunami of money flowing mostly to Tallahassee's Republican power brokers. This isn't a government as much as it is a time-share of a legislative valet service.

Florida Blue has contributed $250,000 to the House Republican Campaign Committee controlled by state Rep. Steve Crisafulli, who is scheduled to become next House speaker. Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, has hauled in $1,114,650 from various interests. Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, has received $745,974, mostly from health care concerns — and they are very concerned. Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, has taken in $674,990 from gambling and union interests.

And let us not forget chaps like billionaire Coral Gables sugar daddy Miguel Fernandez, who has contributed $2.4 million to Scott's political committee over the past four years.

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Does anyone, with the exception of Weatherford, actually believe that all these numerous groups involved in health care, gambling, real estate development, tourism, utilities and agribusiness simply wrote fat checks to well-positioned politicians without the merest expectation they would get a return on their investments?

Either Weatherford is being wilfully naive, or he is more disingenuous than a gathering of Hollywood talent agents.

You know the climate of Tallahassee money changers has reached both epidemic and absurdist proportions when Ron Book, one of the city's most prominent and generous lobbyists, acknowledges, "The thirst for campaign money has reached a new level. I say this every year and every year it gets worse."

This from a man who has more legislative trophy heads on his wall than Hemingway.

Both Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz have done their best Hardy Boys of High Mindedness impersonation by insisting the Legislature's new reporting laws requiring greater openness and transparency have created a more ethical place.

But for ethics rules to have teeth, they would require those beholden to them to actually have a sense of scruples. And when it comes to the Florida Legislature and money, there is less shame than an Irish setter snout down in the garbage bin.

As the 2014 session begins, if you are a poor person, or sick, or a public school student, or an environmentalist, or the child of illegal immigrants, you don't stand a chance of being heard. But you never have.