Florida's phallic Capitol building is a perfect symbol — so why move it?

SCOTT KEELER   |   Times Tampa Bay Times staff writer Craig Pittman.
SCOTT KEELER | Times Tampa Bay Times staff writer Craig Pittman.
Published Jan. 25, 2018

ere we go again.

Earlier this month, state Rep. Bill Hager, R-Delray Beach, filed a bill to move Florida's state capital from Tallahassee. Citing the cost and difficulty of traveling to T-town from nearly anywhere else in the state, Hager's bill, HB 1335, calls for establishing a task force to look at options for relocating the Capitol building, the executive branch offices and the Legislature. (Presumably the Supreme Court justices would find a way to join them, perhaps by hitchhiking along the side of the interstate while wearing their robes.)

I would wish Rep. Hager luck except I am pretty sure he's not going to have any.

Tallahassee has been our capital longer than Florida has been a state. Territorial officials picked it as the capital in 1824 based on a combination of geography and geometry. The state had two capitals back then, one in Pensacola and the other in St. Augustine, and so they picked a spot halfway between and that was Tallahassee.

Ralph Waldo Emerson visited two years later and noted that the town had already become "a grotesque place … rapidly settled by public officers, land speculators and desperadoes." So I guess you could say that not much has changed.

Another constant is that people have tried, over and over, to relocate the state capital. Everybody complains about how hard it is to get to Tallahassee. Why not move it to some place that's closer to the state's population centers, making it easier for the rest of the state to reach?

"Bills or proposals were submitted to the Legislature in 1870, 1883, 1921 and 1967," the Tallahassee Democrat noted recently. "Those efforts died without a vote in the Legislature. In 1900, state voters overwhelmingly voted to keep Tallahassee the capital."

The last time anyone tried to move the capital resulted in a twist that's about as purely Floridian as you can get. By the mid 1960s, the building we now call the Old Capitol had gotten too small for the size of the state government. Thus a South Florida state senator named Lee Weissenborn proposed building a new capitol building in Orlando. He argued that to better serve the public, the capital should be moved someplace that was more centrally located.

But what Florida politician wants to be closer to the people? Ick!

So his colleagues instead voted to spend millions of dollars building a new capitol building in Tallahassee. As a consolation prize, Weissenborn got a plaque in the new building that said, "This plaque is dedicated to Senator Lee Weissenborn whose valiant effort to move the Capitol to Orlando was the prime motivation for the construction of this building."

The new Capitol, though, turned out to be a monument to something else. There's a 22-story executive branch tower bluntly thrusting itself toward the sky, bracketed by a pair of domes for the House and Senate. Drive toward it on Apalachee Parkway and it's hard to miss the resemblance to a portion of the male anatomy.

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In fact, Florida's state Capitol building won an online poll as the most phallic public building in the world.

During the meetings on approving the design, "there was never any mention of the shape," a reporter who covered the construction told me. "Although I have always suspected each member was just waiting for somebody else to speak up."

No one did — and as you may have guessed, there were no women on the Cabinet then.

I thought of all this while reading the recent stories about legislators who had affairs with each other or with lobbyists, or who were accused of trading votes for sex instead of trading votes for campaign cash the way they normally do. Anyone who spends their days and nights working in a building that looks like that, a long way away from the inquiring eyes of your constituents and spouses — well, it's small wonder that these folks would think they could get away with antics they would never try at home.

Would moving the capital change that attitude? I don't know. But some days I think Weissenborn had it backward. Instead of moving the capitol to Orlando, we should move Orlando to the capitol and just turn the whole thing into an amusement park. After all, that's apparently the way the legislators treat it.

Contact Craig Pittman at Follow @craigtimes.