It’s so easy to get distracted in the Sunshine State. Just as your mother warned, staring too long into the burning brightness of the sun is likely to render you blind, impotent, cancerous or governor. So you just stand there in your little rented patch of swampland, devoid of will or direction, and take the nightmarish lashings paraded out as “news” like the lumps that they are. “I deserve this,” you mutter under your breath, rationalizing that it’s all worth it for the weather, right? Then, on cue, the state shaped like a hairdryer blows its sickeningly hot summer air up your nostrils, begging your olfactory senses to differ. Despair leads to despondence leads to disaffection, and before you know it, you’re as lifeless as a rain-soaked teddy bear mildewing outside a makeshift memorial for a dead celebrity baby. Looks like you’ve made it.
Just like us! If you count the Plexiglas ceiling of psychological exhaustion that bounces us back to this serialized rant of disgust as making it. What we’re really making is a futile cry for sanity, some little smoke signal sent up in hope that it’ll find a rescue helicopter carved out of reason. In its seven previous incarnations, “Our Dumb State” has been a lot of things: a drunk friend with a slurring yarn to unravel, a downcast glare at the crack-addled flora and fauna of the state’s most creative domestic relationships, a snake eating a baby, a redneck waterpark. Typically, it’s been a tickertape bonfire of newsfeed miscellany peppered with shards of broken politics – a collection of filthy pieces to be laughed at by the world, albeit nervously.
But on the occasion of this, our latest compendium of idiocy designed for your reading pleasure, the guffaws are almost entirely topical in nature. No less absurd than your average bestiality dust up in a trailer, mind, but somehow that much more awe-inspiring for the fact that most of them involve elected officials proudly wearing neckties. Sure, it’s easy to point and laugh as Gov. Rick Scott has his ass handed to him by protesters at a Tampa doughnut shop, but in sunny Florida, such misguided on-the-job training is just the tip of the poisonous icing. This, dear readers, is where bad policy comes to live and bad people come to die, a loud and unyielding tapestry of hucksters playing behind-the-scenes shuffleboard with the public good. Wish you were here. Wait, why are we here again? Masochism. Welcome to Our Dumb State!
HAIR OF THE DOG
Foppish blond rodent (and Florida Senate President) Mike Haridopolos had already made his way into the proverbial liberal crosshairs before dipping his claws into potential national prominence as a U.S. Senate candidate earlier this year. The Merritt Island Republican achieved just the kind of record that one has come to expect from the various prominent elephants in the room: He took a second job making $75,000 a year lecturing to some poor University of Florida students, wrote a virtual coloring book on political theory for which he was paid $152,000 by Brevard Community College and accidentally withheld more than $500,000 from his financial disclosures. All of this, of course, would make him the ideal “business” candidate for the Republicans to put forth in their haste to unseat Sen. Bill Nelson in 2012.
But Haridop-olos’ big-boy campaign was doomed from the start. First, he overlapped his federal fundraising efforts with the state’s legislative session, raking in nearly $2.5 million in the first quarter alone, largely from special interests hoping to steer Floridian politics in their own direction. He brushed off any criticisms, naturally, telling the Miami Herald, “They’re buying into my agenda. I’m not buying into theirs.” And while fundraising is in fact prohibited during session for state legislators, they are allowed to solicit cash if they’re running for federal office. No scandal here!
So why did Haridopolos abruptly pull himself out of the U.S. Senate campaign in July, then? By his own logic, the double duty was too much for a Senate president to handle. Probably a more likely reason, though, is that Haridopolos is set to be recorded for deposition for his role in the never-ending Republican Party of Florida corruption scandal later this month. He’ll be deposed by none other than Cheney Mason, who – as you may recall – just hopped off the Casey Anthony circus (middle finger intact) and is now taking his high profile back to the courthouse to represent Jim Greer, the former RPOF chair who’s been accused of embezzling party funds. After seeing the magic that Mason was able to pull off with the Anthony fiasco, we can only expect that Haridopolos will feed his flagging ego with a U.S. House run in the coming the months.
Fulfilling the legislature’s presumed requirement for everyman schlubbery as a means of accurate constituent representation, the state couldn’t find a better (or, in terms of tailoring, worse) fit than the malaise personified in future Florida House Speaker Chris Dorworth, R-Lake Mary. This is, after all, a man of very little means giving off the appearance of skyrocketing success; a man who was somehow able to parlay a $1.5 million mansion foreclosure and a $2.7 million legal judgment against him into a celebrated party superlative, even with a paltry $32,000 legislative salary. While the rest of us were kiting checks to ourselves for peanut butter and gas, Dorworth was racking up more than $1,000 in campaign expenses for beer-pong stumbles to Super Bowl parties. Got to keep it real, brah.
Like most of his bulging brethren, Dorworth has the capitalist god on his side in the form of the gray hairs at the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the deep pockets of the Koch Brothers. What that basically means is that he’s barely capable of forming an opinion on his own – “My guess is that we just did a ton of research on it,” he told website PolitiJax of a recent bill – and he doesn’t really have to. A recent records request by the lefties at In These Times magazine revealed what nobody could ever have expected: The text of at least one of Dorworth’s “bills,” an anti-union measure, was effectively written by the Koch Brothers’ American Legislative Exchange Council, right down to a “Copyright, ALEC” signature at the end. If you weren’t aware, ALEC basically writes all the horrible privatization legislation you see repeated in every state legislature. His staff, of course, said it had no idea how that paperwork made its way into Dorworth’s office, even though Dorworth is a card-carrying ALEC member.
Perhaps Dorworth, who was caught red-fingered fiddling with his iPad at a public hearing on redistricting just last month, just wasn’t paying attention. He and his peers in the Seminole County Republican delegation have more pressing things to worry about, according to his Facebook account. They have a ping-pong league.
As history reminds us, Florida has long been a drip pan for both the “I don’t care anymore” retirement impulse of aged escapists and the scruples-free opportunism of entrepreneurs attracted to both low regulation and relative consumer stupidity (see: senior citizens). Through some 30 years of accelerated fermentation – blame the combating sea breezes, if you must – that phenomenon has morphed into a political juggernaut rife with misinformation. That’s why most Tea Party barbeques are haunted by the rickety ghosts of blue hairs living, ironically, on the public dime via fixed incomes and Medicare.
So it only makes sense that when the Americans for Prosperity (Koch Brothers!) clan got it into their minds to push their “school choice” manifesto this year into the dangling scrotum of Florida’s failing education system, those lining up to absorb the message weren’t struggling parents with immediate concerns about public education, but rather the olds who make no bones about the fact that they don’t think they ought to fork over cash to pay for your kids’ education. Their scratchy bellows were loud enough to overpower the far more logical concerns of the antichrist public school lobby, despite numerous reports in nearly every Florida market that charter schools were basically the new entrepreneurial strip malls, only with less regulation and more potential danger for the future of the state’s kids. This year, the legislature completely overlooked the state’s 3,000 public schools when it came time to distribute $55 million from the Public Education Capital Outlay program, instead dishing out all of that to the 350 ramshackle charter schools that Gov. Rick Scott suggests will save the state from itself. The olds don’t care about the future.
But will they care about their own? In a state that boasts more seniors than seashells, the legislature agreed to gut nursing home facility spending by $187.5 million, turn away $2.1 million in federal grants intended to transition the elderly from nursing homes to their own homes and $36 million in phased grants to assist the process. In return, the state offered $2.1 billion in Medicare funding cuts for the facilities during the next 10 years. Aw, who cares. They’ll be dead by then, right?
OUT ON BONDI
Nobody expected too much from Attorney General Pam Bondi. The photogenic blonde – whose no-nonsense, no-prisoners (all prisoners?) take on justice facilitated her leap from the fair balance of a talking head on FOX News to Tallahassee’s most powerful legal office – seemed a fair match for the ill-tempered 2010 election cycle. She wanted to crack down on pill mills! She supported the blockage of Obamacare! She’s hot! What more could Florida ask for?
How about a huge foreclosure scandal? In a state where 22,377 homes had foreclosure filings in July – or, roughly, one in 400 – Bondi recently found herself in hot water for effectively firing two of her high-ranking foreclosure fraud attorneys, June Clarkson and Theresa Edwards, for what they claim are political reasons. The pair were investigating two separate lending companies, including Jacksonville’s Lender Processing Services (which now employs Joe Jacquot, the former deputy attorney-general of Florida; he also worked for Gov. Scott’s Solantic health clinics). In addition to the obvious political associations, LPS reportedly donated $36,500 to the Republican Party during the 2010 general election. Also, both attorneys had been given glowing reviews under former Attorney General Bill McCollum. Uh-oh. In a save-face measure brought on by some rather loud Democratic grumbling, Bondi immediately took the public relations step of calling for an independent investigation into the matter. Surely that won’t be tainted.
Our dumb state cried a collective single tear when the “Die Quickly!” musings of former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando, gave way to the stumbling mute math of his replacement, Dan Webster, last November. Webster, who only grudgingly accepted the Republican Party’s nomination at the last minute, would not be good for news copy – when he even dares to show his face, it’s usually followed by the sort of gobbledygook reserved for the rocking chairs outside of a Cracker Barrel.
But Florida’s Republican Party, recently emboldened by the nonsense-speak of a Tea Party electorate, would not go quietly. Enter U.S. Rep. Allen West, R-Plantation (ha!), coined by New York magazine “Insane Florida Congressman Allen West,” and his reactionary political shenanigans. To those familiar with West, the snowballing news of his blowhard temper shouldn’t come as a surprise. This is, after all, the same former Army colonel who shot a gun into a bucket of sand with an Iraqi soldier’s head in it, openly hates Muslims and encouraged his supporters to effectively scare Democrats back into their homes. Die quickly? More like, “die now.”
More recently, West has ruled the headlines with further forays into the Autism spectrum. First, he shot an email (thankfully just an email) to Democratic leader Debbie Wasserman Schultz, politely opining that “You are the most vile, unprofessional and despicable member of the U.S. House of Representatives. If you have something to say to me, stop being a coward and say it to my face, otherwise, shut the heck up. … You have proven repeatedly that your are not a lady, therefore, shall not be afforded due respect from me!” All Wasserman Schultz had to do to afford that love letter was to attack West’s stance on increasing costs for Medicare beneficiaries, obviously a large portion of the state’s population and his constituency. Imagine if she had called him gay!
Well, that won’t be necessary, because though West is abjectly reviled by the gay community – even going so far as to be uninvited to a Wilton Manors business-interest meeting for his hardline homophobia – he doesn’t even believe that gay exists. He instead likens homosexuality to a preference for a certain flavor of ice cream (chocolate chip!) or, say, a predilection for riding scooters. “People can change their sexual behavior,” he told the Sun-Sentinel earlier this month. Ladies and gentlemen, our own Marcus Bachmann.
Here in the land of tourism and its requisite recreational whiplash, it’s easy to forget that all of the high-speed twists and turns that tend to make a participant lightheaded – if not outright dumb – are the bread and butter of an otherwise dilapidated economy. Traced back to the sweetheart deals that led Mr. Walt Disney to surmise that the swamplands of Florida would be the most economically sensible for his somewhat childlike ambitions – let’s not forget that EPCOT was supposed to be an actual commune in a bubble, ostensibly devoid of tax concerns – it’s apparent why lawmakers have frequently given more than just a pass to the big name escapism retailers: You don’t want to anger the cuddly beast.
However, in light of recent litigation against online hotel package retailers known for skipping through loopholes to lessen their tax burdens, some of Disney’s – and to a minor extent, Universal Orlando’s – fiduciary cushioning has been called into question. Here’s how it works: Disney sells package deals (tickets combined with hotel rooms and sundry other perks) at a discounted rate to its own organization, the Walt Disney Travel Co., which then upsells them to consumers; the sales tax revenue reflects that discounted price; Disney makes mountains of cash; the state loses revenue.
The deal stems from a 1991 law allowing the “wholesale” packaging, according to a May Orlando Sentinel report. And though Disney surpasses all other entities in its payment of state and local taxes – $566 million a year – it also claims to sell hundreds of thousands of the suspect package deals, to itself, at a discount. There is no wait time to ride this particular loophole.
All hail the new hypocrisy! You may remember Florida House Speaker Dean Cannon’s gall when he suggested that perhaps the Florida Supreme Court should be split in two as a means of suppressing liberal judicial activism (the kind of activism that recently removed a number of his own suggested constitutional amendments from the ballot); that measure was eventually stripped from legislation in the spring session, largely because of a lot of backlash from his wondertwin, the Mike Haridopolos-led state Senate.
“The person to blame is me, not Dean Cannon,” simpered Haridopolos to the News Service of Florida. Aw.
Cannon – and the House in general – joined in a lawsuit earlier this year challenging the redistricting language overwhelmingly approved by the pub- lic in a 2010 constitutional amendment vote, hoping, we presume, that a federal high court (or separate branch of governance) would side with him? More judicial activism, please!
Well, all the more troubling is a much larger separation, one that’s been bumping around Tallahassee since the heady days of Gov. Jeb Bush. Packaging the measure to nullify the separation of church and state – a federal constitutional mandate, if we remember our First Amendment history correctly – as a civil rights issue aimed at protecting religious freedoms, Cannon and Co. were able to move the measure forward for public vote on the 2012 ballot. Even religious leaders balked, pointing out that religious freedom hinges on the freedom from public finance rules, and that any dilution of that principle could challenge the freedom of religion in Florida.
That freedom isn’t exactly what Cannon, Scott and Haridopolos – all sucking at the Jesus teat – have in mind. Gov. Bush made a similar attempt during his tenure as a means of furthering funding for “voucher schools” – now charter schools – many of which are private or religious schools. Even Jesus has an agenda. The end result, should the Republican supermajority get its way, could effectively leave a state run by corporations and zealots, an extreme version of the wasteland Florida has already become. You think we’re dumb now? Wait until next year.