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.