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.