Does the GOP Hate the Panhandle?

4 02 2009

The House GOP has done the dirty deed. They have dumped scandal plagued Speaker Ray Sansom and moved into a new era of ethics in politics. Or have they? Is it possible Sansom was easier to jettison because he hails from a region that many in the Republican Party want nothing to do with?

In 1995, the State House investigated John Thrasher for a potential conflict of interest stemming from his days as a lobbyist for the Florida Medical Association. Then in 1997, CNN did a piece on it’s weekly Sunday newsmagazine on Thrasher’s potential conflicts of interest as the House Rules Chairman. Yet the GOP kept Thrasher on the path to eventually be Speaker, and in 1998 he was elected the second Republican Speaker since Reconstruction. Thrasher is from Jacksonville, which since the days of Claude Kirk has been the center of Republican activity in Florida.

Ethical questions have also surrounded former Republican Speakers Tom Feeney and Johnnie Byrd, both of whom hail from Central Florida.  Feeney’s ethical behavior eventually led to his demise as a Congressman, but during his Legislative service, Republicans didn’t want to challenge him.

The one Republican House or Senate leader from the Panhandle since the GOP takeover, Alan Bense had impeccable ethics and the confidence of members in both parties. Perhaps had Bense been a little more like Bo Johnson or Ray Sansom he’d have been dumped overboard before his first Regular Session also.

This record stands in contrast to the Democrats who when controlling the Legislature, placed a disproportionate number of Panhandle members in leadership positions. Recall Donald L. Tucker, W.D. Childers, James Harold Thompson, Bo Johnson and of course Dempsey Barron?  Maybe the Democrats current obsession in some ranks with traditional voters in the Panhandle isn’t ill founded? Well it is if you consider the region does little to win you statewide elections, and that the true battleground is where the GOP protects itself and its members: up and down the I-4 corridor.

We’ve already discussed at length the discomfort of the Democratic Party in this state, traditionally Jeffersonian and skeptical of big cities and ethnic/minority voters with the urban mass in southeast Florida. Now we have further evidence the traditionally suburban GOP which until the late 1960s was confined to Pinellas, Broward and Orange Counties has with the Jeffersonian traditions of the Panhandle.

The Republicans are so inept in the region that in 1996 when they had the opportunity to capture an open US House seat they nominated a city slicker, a Tallahassee banker Bill Sutton to oppose a Jefferson County farmer and legislator Alan Boyd. Predictably the GOP lost big.

The Florida Republican Party resembles a group of suburban country club elites who continue to subsist on the votes of those they would never associate closely with. Ray Sansom who represents the sort of constituency the coastal Republican elite in Lighthouse Point or Indian Rocks Beach would never get near was easy to eliminate.

Ultimately it may be high time for the Panhandle to realize the Republicans are still now and always will be the party of Abraham Lincoln, Herbert Hoover, and Wall Street. The Democrats are the party of Thomas Jefferson, but probably not Andrew Jackson as the Florida Democratic Party has traditionally been influenced by heavy landowning families. But when given the chance to dismiss a leader from the Panhandle, The Republicans will gladly take the opportunity.


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.

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.

Sansom’s Resignation Not Enough

6 01 2009


Speaker Ray Sansom’s decision to step down as the vice president of Northwest Florida State College is not nearly enough to put the latest scandal involving the Florida Legislature in the rear view mirror. Sansom has used his position as chronicled in the Miami Herald for the last several weeks to steer millions of dollars in state money to the University and his hiring was merely a pay off for his misuse of the state’s appropriations process.

But Sansom will get away with his token resignation, while undoubtedly continuing to help his former employer due to his house position. But can one really blame Sansom?

With a virtually impotent minority party opposing him, the Destin Republican has merely had to fend off the editorial boards of Florida’s major newspapers to keep his Speakership.  The failure of the Democrats in the House of Representatives to challenge the Speaker and to question the integrity of a body that allows a man to lead the House despite these serious allegations is the real crime. Ray Sansom knows with a weak minority party opposing him, he can push the envelope as far as it will go.

In the past eight years the Democratic super minority has produced some outstanding members: Rep. Doug Wiles and Rep. Dan Gelber come to mind immediately. But by and large the Democrats seem unwilling to ever rock the boat for fear of losing access to power. When the Democrats finally realize they are the minority party and need to act like the loyal opposition, the state as a whole will benefit.