CNN Presents on Sunday featured an outstanding documentary on the legislative battle and fallout from Florida’s voter purge law. The program included extensive interviews by veteran correspondent Joe Johns with Rep. Geraldine Thompson, Rep. Mark Pafford and Rep. Dennis Baxley who was the primary sponsor of the house bill. Noticeably absent were Speaker of the House Dean Cannon and Governor Rick Scott. Both refused CNN’s requests for interviews.
The arrogance of the Republican leadership in the state has known no bounds. The unwillingness of a Governor or House Speaker to defend a law on camera that they orchestrated which fundamentally changes the electoral process in the state is unconscionable. This sort of attitude is developed from having unlimited and unchecked power as the GOP has had in Tallahassee now for 14 years. Controlling all levers of Government and having done the best job possible of limiting citizen participation in the legislative process, Florida’s Republicans feel they have to answer to nobody. This sentiment has been furthered by pitiful opposition from a generally impotent Florida Democratic Party.
This wasn’t a piece for Mother Jones or the Nation, openly liberal publications. This was a piece for a national TV audience on CNN in a prime-time slot. If anything, CNN has attempted in recent years to appear more conservative at least in its choice of political commentators. This has been done in order to overcompensate due to the usual “bias” charges that come against the media or in CNN’s case the former “Clinton News Network” as it was dubbed in the 1990s. But Media Matters, the watchdog organization that monitors the press for bias consistently find CNN stories and analysts with a conservative slant.
In the 1970s, despite the lack of cable news channels or internet, citizen participation, understanding and interest in Florida Government was far greater than it is today. Media outlets such as the St Petersburg Times and Miami Herald were renowned for their coverage of the capital beat, while the Askew administration was closer to a citizen led government than any in state history. While some of the current situation can be attributed to the nature of Florida’s growth, with lots of northerners with no local ties, or sense of community arriving, much of it owes itself to the arrogance of the state’s leadership. When you feel as entitled as many Florida Republicans you do not need to answer to anyone, be it the media, citizens or even some of your own fellow Republican elected officials.
Baxley to his credit has never shied away from discussing his views or his motivations for his different legislative ideas in public. A staunch conservative with whom I disagree strongly with on 90% of the issues, I have always respected his willingness to articulate his views openly. The same can be said for former Rep. Don Brown, Rob Wallace and Fred Brummer, all conservatives with odd points of views on issues but all willing to debate why they felt the way they did. Dean Cannon and Rick Scott (as well as incoming Senate President Don Gaetz) never feel as if they have to answer to the public for decisions they make. Regardless of your viewpoint politically, this is dangerous.
In a Democratic republic, it is critical elected officials be answerable to the media, and to citizens. Without an effective check on reckless, arrogant, and corrupt elected officials you get a situation that resembles, Florida at the current moment. This is something all Floridians should be ashamed of.