Forgetting the public part of service

 

The Florida Legislature is headed into session next month, two months ahead of its typical annual conclave.

Maybe just trying to get the pain over and done with early in 2018.

After all, elections coming up.

This yearly rite of passage has always fasicinated and appalled in equal measures, the 60 days of lawmaking highlighting some of the beauty and a whole lot of the blemishes of government.

The striking blemish resides on the fourth floor of the Capitol, between the two chambers, Senate and House of Representatives.

It is there, along the marble that spans from door to door, that good governance goes to die.

The lobbyists live there, piranhas in finely tailored suits, wielding out-sized influence, that I imagine has only gotten worse under term limits.

Never quite understood term limits; by artificially deciding in advance on the extent of service, term limits take away a fundamental right of voters, unencumbered choice.

We, of course, could delve into county-wide voting here, but that is another day.

In any case, you haven’t received a taste of state politics, and I am guessing most every state has their own Capitol fourth floor, until spending the waning days of a session observing that fourth floor.

Watching as lawmakers, in a steady stream, emerge from the chamber, from debate, from a vote, to confer with a nattily attired individual and receive marching orders and talking points.

There isn’t even the trace of embarrassment or bashfulness.

One of the reasons Tallahassee fatigued me was annually reporting while observing this slow motion train wreck.

Talk about jading.

Similar to reporting from a murder scene and refusing to leave, even after all the briefings and news dissemination, in order to ensure the shot of the blanketed body on the stretcher shot is in the can.

I’ve seen it.

Of course, technology has surely changed some of the dynamics; there were not cell phones or the ease of text to get the message into the chamber at the time I was there.

But perusing the current news out of Tallahassee, there is little doubt that the Legislature’s third branch, the lobbying machine, is alive and well.

Maybe the lead comes from Washington.

One of the more revealing statements made about the tax overhaul Republicans are whittling came from a Congressman, I believe from Utah, though home state has little bearing.

This public servant said that a “donor” told him to either get that tax overhaul accomplished or don’t bother calling again.

Not a voter, not even multiple voters, but a money man.

That should tell the vast majority of the public exactly why a bill that saw little committee time or debate, which was approved in the waning hours of the morning by the Senate after a series of deals to bring recalcitrant members on board, is hailed as the next great thing.

Might also be an explanation why a party which has spent at least a decade as deficit hawks, bemoaning every addition to a national debt that has exploded, suddenly don’t have much problem adding more than $1 trillion to the red ledger.

Once upon a time there was the silent majority; now government seems to be turned by the silent minority.

Local officials are hardly immune.

As one Port St. Joe resident noted this week, commissoners seemed to be considering action based on “phone calls” rather than any plainly and publicly stated reasons.

Those folks making those phone calls, the resident said, should be willing to step into the public forum and present their views.

And this was hardly the first time that a local elected official has cited “phone calls” for rationalizing everything from pay raises to changes in operations.

The resident expressed a radical view: decisions should be for the broader good.

Seems that too many public servants have forgotten the contract entered into when the voter casts his or her ballot.

Governing seems to have become about who provides the contributions, based on delivering votes instead of sound policy, on who and what will bring re-election.

Governing has become sport, concerned with winners and losers, as a fishermen lands or loses his catch.

Voters have, unfortunately, all but created this dilemma, our hectic work weeks, family and civic commitments too frequently leaving engagement in government, engagement of leaders, as an afterthought or business rendered too unpleasant by for speaking up.

The value of elected officials who responsibly, soberly and with vision, make decisions for the greater good, seems to have been hijacked.

I have always had a fondness for Teddy Roosevelt, so let’s leave it with a couple of quotes from one the great, Republican, Presidents.

“No nation deserves to exist if it permits itself to lose the stern and virile values; and this without regard to whether the loss is due to the growth of a heartless and all-absorbing commercialism, to prolonged indulgence in luxury and soft-effortless ease, or to the deification of a warped and twisted sentimentality.”

And:

“To sit home, read one’s favorite paper, and scoff at the misdeeds of the men who do things is easy, but is markedly ineffective. It is what evil men count upon the good men’s doing.”