By Kartik Krishnaiyer
Much like Medicare and Social Security on the federal level, the GOP here in Florida was almost universally against Governor Lawton Chiles crusade against the Tobacco industry. With the exception of three State Senate Republicans and two in the House, Republicans voted in unison for the repeal of Governor Chiles lawsuit and a year later in the Senate to override the Governor’s veto of the repeal. Many Democrats in the Senate joined the GOP effort, which thankfully fell a single vote short of passage.
The GOP leadership used their talking points effectively in 1995 and 1996. They claimed the lawsuit would create a bad business climate and that Children’s Health was not a key concern for the state. The Republicans also complained about how the initial law passed ignoring the fact that legislative trickery and deceit had become a trait of the Legislative wing of the party.
Governor Crist’s continued efforts to raid the Chiles Endowment raises a troubling possibility: Could the GOP have been waiting for an excuse to gut the program altogether? Republicans in the Legislature have never been comfortable with the administration of a trust fund that came from a lawsuit that the majority of Republicans opposed vociferously.
So after opposing the lawsuit and trying to repeal the law that permitted the lawsuit and then finally repealing the law once Jeb Bush became Governor, the GOP is now reaping the benefits of Governor Chiles courage. The fiscal mismanagement of the state by the Legislature in collusion with the Bush and Crist Administrations has been masked by the raiding of trust funds. How ironic, and perhaps this was all by design. Governor Crist helped lead Legislative efforts to fight the Governor’s lawsuit against Big Tobacco and also led the effort to stonewall Gov. Chiles appointees from being confirmed in the Senate. In fairness to Governor Bush, his agenda did not appear as transparant as that of Governor Crist.
Unless evidence can be brought to the contrary it must be assumed based on their public actions and statements that the GOP leadership always intended to see the Tobacco settlement money “wither on the vine.” By cutting taxes recklessly without complimentary spending cuts, perhaps the Legislature always intended to have a shortfall in funding that could be masked by raiding the Chiles endowment. By cutting taxes so frequently without any reasonable plan to enhance revenues from other sources, it would be foolish to not consider that the raiding of the Chiles fund was by design.
Charlie Crist the master politician who has won three consecutive statewide elections can be honest for change. He can say ” I was there fighting it in nineties, investigating the Governor’s actions and now we have killed it, and given Corporations and Business more money instead of allowing the money to help the Children.” Let’s be perfectly frank: once a trust fund is raided to the extent the Chiles Endowment is being raided it is essentially dead. That will be the lasting legacy of Charlie Crist’s Governorship. If he does not wish to be remembered this way and have this shameful episode hanging like a noose over him as he pursues higher office, perhaps he should explain his actions without the smokescreen of the current budget crisis.
The state of Florida under Lawton Chiles took the lead nationally in protecting children and seniors: society’s most vulnerable citizens. Now ten years after one of the great statesman in the history of Florida passed on, the leadership of our state seems to have little regard for his legacy or little conscience when undermining one of the most successful programs in our history. So perhaps it was all by design.