How can Florida’s citizens trust a majority party in the legislature that treats ethical lapses as a media witch hunt? The Republicans have had a uncontested majority for so long that any questioning of them that is done, be it by a lonely Democratic Representative or the state’s press corp is seen as an attack on the party and their governing philosophy.
In the 1970s after decades of corruption and graft related to state government, laws were passed to curb these excesses. Dozens of local and state elected officials went to prison. The vast majority of these officials were Democrats. The Republican minority working with a Democratic governor and many good government Democrats in the legislature pushed ethical reform. More recently with the GOP in power we had lobbying reform which was long overdue. But since 2005, the Republican led Legislature has become a noose around the neck of the state, as more seasoned and moderate GOP legislators were term limited. As these moderates have been weeded out of the House and Senate, the Republican majority has become more reckless, arrogant and entitled while being completely incapable of attracting new business to the state, nor stemming the decline of Florida’s once proud University system.
The arrogance of Florida Republicans means that humility is not a trait that comes easily to today’s legislative leadership. With seemingly unchecked power and wielding an ideologically motivated ax to state programs, the GOP has developed a Soviet like control over Florida Government and politics. Defiance is crushed among activists, corporations and lobbyists using various levers of power to intimidate and punish perceived “enemies.” Submission to the leadership has become a trademark of GOP rule over the state and this arrogance has also led directly to a culture of cronyism and corruption. Either you play ball with Florida’s Republicans or you get crushed, in a more subtle way than the Soviet crushed their internal opposition but with the same ruthless effect.
Last week, the incoming Speaker Will Weatherford named ethically challenged Lake Mary Republican Chris Dorworth as his Majority Leader. Weatherford said, “From my experience as a speaker-designate, I know the value of being afforded a meaningful role in the process. Rep. Dorworth will serve the members well as the next majority leader. His thoughtful, strategic, and positive approach will help guide our Republican caucus as we advance a reform-focused agenda. As the majority leader, Rep. Dorworth will lead the charge of advocating for smaller government and our individual freedoms.”
Dorworth is the poster child for Florida Republican excess, arrogance, bullying and anti-intellectualism. His attacks on local media personalities and bullying of political opponents have become commonplace for Florida’s Republicans.
We constantly hear about how a positive climate for business needs to be created in Florida. The Republican majority as well as complicit Democrats constantly bring this topic up in any political discussion. Floridians of different political and ideological persuasions all agree that we need to attract new business to the state.
Yet with the exception of the much ballyhooed Scripps facility attracted by the Bush Administration to Palm Beach County almost every efforts to attract large companies to relocate administrative headquarters and large facilitates to Florida have fallen flat. At the same time, Florida’s public universities have faced remarkable cuts in budgets and as a result a drop in national reputation.
For all the tax incentives and rhetoric of Republicans in the legislature and executive branch they have proven over the past decade they are consistently unable to attract business to the state. Interestingly, Republicans in neighboring southern states have fared much better at attracting large corporations to either relocate or set up major operations.
For a state of its size, one of four true “mega-states” with more large and medium sized urban areas than any other state in the US, Florida has a pathetically small number of Fortune 1000 companies based in the state. Despite a tax rate lower than most states and “right to work” status which prevents unions from effectively organizing, Florida’s Republicans have failed badly.
While unable to attract new businesses or foster a climate of innovation that develops successful companies the Republicans have done more damage with cuts to Higher Education that have resulted in the plummeting national reputation of the state’s top universities. The Republicans have stacked the boards of Florida’s colleges with political cronies and campaign contributors. Thus a degree from a Florida school is worth less than it ever was, and major corporations have shunned the state because of the lack of compatibility recent college graduates have to serve in the workforce.
Perhaps the GOP’s agenda is protect current Florida businesses by busting unions, lowering taxes and preventing competition or innovation in marketplace. Weakening higher education ensures that chances of a well educated workforce emerging to threaten the old order are remote.
Republicans and Democrats in other states deserve credit for their ability to encourage and solicit economic development from large corporations. The types of high end corporate jobs that Georgia, North Carolina, Alabama and Tennessee in particular have attracted over the last fifteen years is admirable. While those states have moved forward, Florida, once the envy of the region has stagnated or regressed. While Republicans in other southern states have taken governing seriously, Florida’s GOP have chosen to use control of state government as an opportunity to implement the experiments of right-wing Washington think tanks and special interest groups.
With all of this in perspective, and given the damage the GOP led legislature has done to the state, it is no small wonder Florida continues to be the butt of jokes nationally.