Sansom Steps Aside While House Democrats Remain out to Lunch

31 01 2009

The Democrats still don’t get it. Speaker Ray Sansom’s decision to step away temporarily from the duties of the Speakership should be an occasion to call for greater ethical scrutiny of the majority party. Yet the House Democrats met the news of Sansom’s decision with a short statement, which basically said nothing.

We’ve discussed at length the apprehension of the Democrats in the Legislature to aggressively confront the GOP on serious issues. The neutering of the minority party which began with the intimidation tactics of Speaker Dan Webster, who led the first GOP majority since Reconstruction has been completed with the inaction on Sansom’s scandal.

Yesterday’s decision for Sansom to step aside, albeit temporarily owes itself to the outstanding reporting of several top reporters in Florida. It also owes much to the courage of editorial boards at this difficult time for the newspaper industry to confront the excesses and hubris of the GOP majority.  Additionally, it is extremely possible that many Republicans were uncomfortable with the political ramifications of being led by someone as ethically challenged as Sansom, and requested he step aside. This pressure was brought on the GOP by Florida’s Newspapers and citizens not by the minority party.

In 1998, Congressional Republicans feeling they had a problem with Bob Livingston, the in-coming Speaker jettisoned him. Much of the pressure came from within the GOP House caucus although the Democrats had rightfully used Livingston’s advocacy of President Clinton’s Impeachment against him publically. With ethical issues dogging Sansom, and Barack Obama carrying the state by a relatively wide margin this past November, the Democrats had two weeks to call for Sansom’s rejection as Speaker.

The minority party had a number of potential ways to prevent a Sansom speakership, or to at the very least bring light to the culture of corruption that has been protected by the GOP majority. The Democrats could have fairly easily have started a fire that consumed the GOP majority’s will to stand with Sansom.  The Democrats could have caused enough trouble for the Republicans to embarrassingly shove aside Sansom and nominate someone else to be Speaker at the Organizational Session. The Democrats however choose the path of least resistance, and thus Sansom faced little internal pressure from within the House.

Sansom’s current difficulties have very little if anything to do with minority party pressure. The Democrats have not only failed to stand up for their ideology. They have let the state down by a failure to provide a vibrant opposition party in the halls of the Legislature. This is a shortcoming every citizen of the state should take seriously and be concerned about.

We’ve discussed the success of the Congressional Democrats in using Jack Abramoff, and other incidents of graft, greed and corruption against a twelve year entrenched GOP majority in Washington. But in Tallahassee, where the Republicans enter the thirteenth consecutive year with a House majority, the Democrats are totally out to lunch.

Perhaps the Democrats don’t have enough courage in their convictions to step forward and confront the likes of Ray Sansom. Or perhaps they lack an ideology and conscience completely, and are simply happy to enjoy the perks of legislative office themselves. Whatever the case, the Democrats have through thirteen years in the minority become less and less effective as a true opposition party in Florida.

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Florida GOP Practicing Hoovernomics.

30 01 2009

By Kartik Krishnaiyer

Earlier this week the Tallahassee Democrat reported that the Chiles Endowment Fund is being eyed again by GOP lawmakers and Governor Crist.  The fiscal policies that have basically bankrupted the state have been on the watch of the Republican Legislative majority as well as Governor Bush and Governor Crist. Yet much like one of Florida’s worst Governors, Fred Cone who led the state during the Depression.

Cone was a doctrinaire conservative much like many fellow Democrats of the day. David Sholtz, who had been the Governor in FDR’s first four years as President employed progressive programs to try and jump start Florida’s economy. But under Cone the state backslid because of an unwillingness to raise revenue or implement new programs.

The Florida GOP of 2009 looks like the Democrats of Cone’s era. Conservtaive, ideological and completely impractical. Governor Crist a master politician understands that this cannot be the GOP’s image. But the legislative leadership, conservative and in many cases tied to the traditional landowning families of Florida’s yesteryear.

These ideolgoues want Florida to be a twenty first century labratory for Hoovernomics. Even Republicans as controversial as Dick Cheney warned GOP Congressman about associating so openly with the failed ecomomic policies of the Republican Party of the 1920s. But the Florida GOP save the Governor clearly did not get the memo from the Vice President.





Florida Forever Must Be Maintained At All Costs

29 01 2009

By Kartik Krishnaiyer

When Florida Forever was passed as a compromise piece of legislation during the 1999 Legislative Session. Environmentalists including myself wanted a more comprehensive program to promote restoration of natural ecosystems (including but not limited to the Everglades). Whether or not the original legislation went far enough can be debated but few can argue that the Florida Forever program has been universally successful, and one of the few positive legacies of the Bush years in Florida.

Governor Charlie Crist understands this legacy in a way Legislators who were not around for its passage and whose shortsightedness is obvious.

The progress of the program is best described by the official website:

” Since its inception in July 2001 through September 2006, the state’s Florida Forever land acquisition program has been extremely successful as evidenced by the protection of: over 231,730 acres of Strategic Habitat Conservation Areas (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission); 374,890 acres of habitat conservation areas (FNAI), and over 580 listed species locations of 190 different species, 98 of which are state-listed as endangered, 41 state-listed threatened, and 17 species of special concern; 513,050 acres of ecological greenways (Office of Greenways & Trails); 68,260 acres of under-represented natural communities; 54,540 acres of natural floodplains; 530,550 acres important to significant water bodies; 5,060 acres of fragile coastline; 236,210 acres of functional wetlands; 524,846 acres of significant groundwater recharge areas; 30,130 acres of land to support priority recreational trails; and, 268,330 acres of sustainable forest land. Also, over 2,500 acres of archaeological and historic sites have been protected. Note: these acreages were derived from the most recently updated Florida Forever data layers, which are continuously amended to reflect the most current scientific analyses of Florida’s natural resources. Additionally, the acreages recorded for each measure often overlap, and thus should not be added together.”

So in short Florida was on the cutting edge of progressive reform which our readers all realize is a rarity. It’s a shame the legislators don’t appreciate the historical significance of this program and remember that Florida’s economy is fueled by tourism and Florida’s tourism is largely fueled by its unique environmental balance. Investing in Florida’s environment is in fact an investment in Florida’s economy even more so than cutting taxes, funding education, etc. It is critical Florida continues to maintain higher environmental standards than other states.





Corruption in Southeast Florida

28 01 2009

by Kartik Krishnaiyer

Recently we’ve seen three Palm Beach County commissioners of note arrested and charged with serious crimes. Mary McCarty the latest to fall was not only a powerful county commissioner but had been the chair of the local Republican Executive Committee as recently as the 2002 election cycle.

Palm Beach County is an area I’ve worked in extensively. I’ve also worked in every other corner of the state at some point or another. But from my vantage point Palm Beach County as well as Broward  County have been exceedingly corrupt when compared to the rest of Florida for a few key reasons.

1- Lack of ideology. Most everyone in southeast Florida is a Democrat. Those who are Republicans are willing to a large extent to act like Democrats when they need to.  Broward County in particular has suffered from being a one party area where the Democrats are more corporate than liberal. What has happened is that in competitive two party areas the Democrats are a liberal party and the GOP a conservative one. But in Palm Beach and Broward Counties, the Democrats have become more of a big money party than anything. Primaries in this area which are tantamount to election are often decided by personality or likability rather than on any pressing issue.

2- The influence of developers who worked through political channels to overbuild the area. Their greed and desire for access has made Democratic politicians approve developments and commercial projects that true liberal democrats would reject. Suburban counties run by Republicans like Seminole County and Martin County have held development in check for years despite pressure from developers. Yet urban Broward and Palm Beach run by ostensibly liberal Democrats have built their counties out.

3- Urban Politics. Most politicians in Broward and Palm Beach County came from the Northeast where corruption is tolerated and good ole boy networks are actually worse than the South. (Despite the media perception: let’s not forget the major media outlets save CNN are all based in New York and tend to glorify that area and its public officials.)

One wonders why Democrats have been so tentative about confronting Speaker Ray Sansom. Those who have challenged him have been from outside south Florida like Senator Charlie Justice or Representative Scott Randolph. The bottom line is Sansom’s behavior which may be considered a conflict of interest in micropolitan Northwest Florida, is typical in urban south Florida.

The Palm Beach County Commission in fact protected Mary McCarty for years while she engaged in more blatant conflicts than Sansom has. Democrats and Republicans alike on the commission did not blow the whistle on something that was painfully obvious to outside observers and I had conversations about with Democratic leaders as early as 2000. But it seemed while some Democratic leaders genuinely were concerned others had allied themselves with McCarty’s South PBC Republicans, who could be best described as “Democratic Lite.”

You’ll find in Palm Beach County more Democrats who publicly support Republicans in contested elections and vise versa than in any other area of the state. Political deal making between members of the two parties is a regular occurrence. Party labels are blurred and ideology is non existent. If you’re looking for a playbook to create an environment for corruption, Palm Beach County and to a lesser extent Broward County have followed it. It’s little wonder the rest of the state wants little to do with the area.





Democrats not bothering Sansom

27 01 2009

By Kartik Krishnaiyer

The silence is deafening. At a time when Democrats fortunes are soaring throughout the country and two years after the GOP was relegated to the minority in congress because of a culture of corruption, the Democrats in Florida are letting Speaker Sansom off the hook. Florida Democrats are unwilling to challenge Republicans on their questionable public behavior. Nancy Pelosi and her lieutenants in the US House successfully made ethics an issue in 2006. Florida’s own Suzanne Kosmas made it an over riding issue in her 2008 upset of former Florida House Speaker Tom Feeney.

Speaker Ray Sansom’s continued problems seem to be a hot potato for Democratic leaders in Tallahassee. They don’t want to get near it. Perhaps it’s because of the Democrats own embarrassment with a House Speaker from Northwest Florida (Bo Johnson in 1994) not so long ago. Or maybe it’s because the Democrats, so long in the minority have the attitude of a neutered puppy dog. The Democrats have become a submissive minority, not wanting to rock the boat except on a few issues a year and wanting to take home largely symbolic or frivolous legislation to claim success to constituents after each session.

Sansom has served in the House long enough to know the impotence of the minority party. The fighters who’d previously bring attention to the serious matter at hand have all moved on. The fighting spirit of Kendrick Meek and Tony Hill is no longer found among the House Democrats. The politics of accommodation and submission are fully on display from today’s Democratic minority. The last real fighters of the group, Susan Bucher and Dan Gelber are no longer in the House. What is left is a group of confused members who did well on the budget but don’t seem to realize that they must take the fight on ethics to the GOP, or relegate themselves to a permanent super minority status.

Sansom’s real opponent is the Capitol Press Corp. With accomplished media veterans such as Adam Smith and Steve Bosquet  in Tallahassee, it’s difficult to escape all questioning. But the St Petersburg Times, Florida’s paper of record cannot wage this campaign alone. The Democrats however won’t engage in the battle. Perhaps that’s better than storming the beach with your soldiers and then cutting a deal, leaving them to die, as Legislative Democrats have done in the past.

Tomorrow we’ll explore the cradle of corruption in Florida. It’s not Northwest Florida where Sansom, Johnson and former Republican Senator Robert Harden (who also went to jail) hail from, but the Democrats own home base of Palm Beach and Broward Counties. Urban politics meets non ideological, personality driven politics deep in southeast Florida.





Taking on Tom Rooney

26 01 2009

By Kartik Krishnaiyer

Tom Rooney’s resounding win over scandal plagued Congressman Tim Mahoney was a rare GOP pickup in Democratic 2008 nationally.The seat which leans Republican is the type of seat the right kind of Democrat can win and solidify a hold on. But Tim Mahoney was an accidental congressman and was always going to have to fight to hold the seat.

Democratic Party insiders are hopeful of a potential candidacy by Senator Dave Aronberg who would not be forced to resign his Legislative seat thanks to a recent change in the state law. Aronberg who has successfully won and defended a marginal coast to coast Senate seat for three successive elections has the moderate profile and legislative record Democrats locally are looking for.

Rumors have been abound that Aronberg a former Deputy Attorney General under Bob Butterworth may be interested in seeking the Attorney General office himself. But in order to do that, Aronberg would be forced to resign his Senate Seat. Additionally, Bill McCollum the incumbent may or may not seek the US Senate seat which he failed to gain in 2004.

A failure by the Democrats to recruit the strongest possible candidate in 2010 against Rooney especially headed into the redistricting process could spell the permanent return of FL-16 to the GOP. That’s precisely why a potential Aronberg candidacy is garnering so much buzz locally.





Discover Florida: Shark Valley

25 01 2009

evg-51

Shark Valley is one of the most popular attractions in one of America’s most visited national parks. Located right off Tamiami Trail near the Miami-Dade/Collier line, the entrance to Shark Valley is separated from the rest of Everglades National Park by 36 miles.

Shark Valley’s main trail is unique. Alligators by the dozen lie on the trail as humans walk up and down checking out the scenes. These Gators have lost their fear of humans by virtue of interacting so much with tourists and visitors. However, only one fatality ever occurred between an Alligator and a human at the complex and that was many moons ago. Nature co-exists with human visitors as naturally as it possibly can at Shark Valley.

Tram tours are offered which visitors on board the open air tour on a track which is limited  and the wildlife inhabiting it.  At the midway point of the trip, explorers have the opportunity to stroll up the spiral ramp way and platform of the Shark Valley observation tower, allowing a panoramic view of the heart of the Everglades.

observation-tower


In addition to alligators and wading birds, Turtles, Fish, Deer, Raccoons, and other wildlife can all be seen from the Observation Tower.  From the tower you can also get the best possible look at the Shark River Slough. The Observation Tower can be reached also by hiking on the walking trail. The River is a distributor of fresh water into Florida Bay, and it’s health is critical for the entire Everglades ecosystem to function normally.

The building of Tamiami Trail in the 1920s ruined the natural water flow of the Everglades and the Shark Valley Slough. This in turn contributed to the destruction of fisheries and estuaries in Florida Bay. The combination of pollution, and development has prevented the Bay from getting natural freshwater runoff for decades now.  As a solution an elevated stretch of Tamiami Trail through the Shark Valley River Slough has been proposed. An artist rendering of the proposed Everglades Skyway is below.

everglades-skyway

Shark Valley as mentioned above is part of Everglades National Park and the admission fee gives you access to all of the Park.