RECORD EDITORIAL: Tallahassee politics is eating its young

Mark you calendars for 2018 and pencil in “The year that Tallahassee melts down.”

 

We’ve come to expect a pugnacious body of lawmakers whose egos chafe against one another in their ultimate aim of concentrating power around within their orbit.

That’s not so new. It’s that over the past few years they’re so self-regarded they’re upfront about it and their colleagues pass it off with impunity.

That’s likely to change. The bitterness is not, as one might think, between the Democrats and Republicans. It’s an intra-GOP thing. That’s because the Republicans have all the power in the Governor’s Mansion, the Senate and the House of Representatives. And if Gov. Rick Scott has his way, the Florida Supreme Court will devolve from a pretty balanced body with a 4-3 left leaning philosophy into a 6-1 conservative one.

The Democrats are nearly neutered in this mix, and it’s getting worse. Last week the party lost its incoming Minority Leader, Sen. Jeff Clemens, who resigned after an affair with a female lobbyist came to light.

One of their rising stars, Rep. Daisy Baez, lost her House seat last week after pleading guilty to perjury in a probe of her legal residency. The plea deal required her to resign, and she’s prohibited from running anew in 2018 because she’ll still be on probation next year.

The Republicans lost Sen. Frank Artiles who was forced out in April after a profane and public racial outburst.

This week, one of Tallahassee’s more powerful lawmakers, Senate budget chief Jack Latvala, was accused by six women of sexual harassment. He denies the charges. He is one of six declared candidates for Governor in 2018.

What makes this probe politically uber-charged is another Tallahassee heavyweight, Senate President Joe Negron, is personally leading the investigation, under the banner of “Zero Tolerance.”

Add to that explosive mix, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who has called for Latvala’s immediate resignation. It’s probably of little coincidence that Corcoran is considered to be close to announcing his candidacy for Governor. Taking out a powerful opponent before the election begins is business as usual.

Negron came under fire last week for changing how the Senate handles sexual harassment charges, the Sunshine State News reports. “The revised procedure appeared to block victims from lodging complaints with the Human Resources department.” Negron denies the claim, saying that the new policy sends the complaints directly to the Senate President or the Senate Chief of Staff rather than “somewhere in the bureaucracy.”

But, from where we sit, having a Human Resources department take the complaints seems a cleaner approach than reporting a colleague to a colleague. Female lobbyists are prime targets of sexual advances. They would be unlikely to irk legislative leadership by coming forward. Their livelihood depends on relationships.

Meanwhile, both Republican and Democrat lawmakers are in the generally ugly inside battles to fill the vacated leadership positions of their ethically compromised “colleagues.”

It’s like a spy movie. Latvala was caught kissing a female lobbyist in an Italian restaurant on a hidden camera. Another hidden camera was discovered earlier this year in the hallway of a condo located a few blocks from the capitol where several lawmakers live during session. It was traced to a Gainesville private investigator.

It’s the perfect storm of power plays, with lawmakers feeding off the carrion of ethically challenged brethren.

We may see a session where libido trumps legislation as the focus our elected “leaders.”

 

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