Thursday, September 25, 2014

On the ballot in November: state sponsored cronyism … by gimleteye

There is slightly more than a month until the November election. Are you going to vote?

There is only one issue on the ballot (although I support the Amendment One and Amendment Two, for land conservation and medical marijuana in Florida). That issue: whether voters will finally reject Gov. Rick Scott and state sponsored cronyism.

I use the term, "state sponsored cronyism" not only because it is true -- we never had a government so locked down by insiders and special interests -- but because it echoes another popular phrase of the day, "state sponsored terrorism".

These ism's have more than a passing resemblance.

Our individual rights and liberties are undone by terrorism the same way our democracy -- a government by and for the people -- is blown up by cronyism.

We associate "state sponsored terrorism" with Iran or Syria, ruled by despots and dictators. "State sponsored cronyism" is a home grown affair that has its roots, also, in a government grown remote and hostile to people.

Historically, Florida and state government has proven an easy target for insiders and operators. In recent decades, there has been a new game in town: a de facto government takeover by ideologues who believe that government itself is the enemy of progress. Extremists who couldn't kill government programs they abhorred (environmental protection, for instance) learned that it was easier to commandeer from within and to hollow out the functions of government by making everything associated with regulation a battle to assert allegiance to conservative values. Over time, those conservative values (protecting the environment is also called conservation) deformed the way plastic does under a flame.

Independent and women voters will determine the outcome of the governor's race in Florida. These represent the margin of victory and whether Charlie Crist will be the next governor of Florida.

While it is tempting to look at party affiliation as a determinant factor in how swing voters act, what people really ought to be thinking about is this: does a government run by a mob of extremists satisfy you? Because that is the direct result of state sponsored cronyism.

You only get to run government in Florida if you are part of the insider, special interests. You only get to prove your credentials as an operator, if you prove to the bullies that you are one of them. You do that by passing laws that are even more extreme than the ones that were passed before. For special interests, Florida is like owning their own ATM machines. For the rest of us, not so good at all.

Charlie Crist may not be the ideal candidate, but having faced the fury of state sponsored cronyism, he is the only candidate for governor who if elected will do anything about it.

(Readers, Fred Grimm wrote an excellent OPED following up on the state sponsored cronyism that resulted in the appointment of John Thrasher to president of FSU. Click 'read more' to read.)

Fred Grimm: Thrasher gets cushy university spot he once fought against
09/24/2014 8:00 AM 09/24/2014 9:17 PM
Back in 2012, a brave senator from St. Augustine tried to stop barely qualified Florida legislators from exploiting their political clout and snatching cushy jobs at state colleges and universities.

The senator introduced ethics legislation that would have prohibited lawmakers from copping jobs with state colleges or universities while in office. Or for two years after the end of their terms.

It was a worthy, if futile, effort. An embarrassing number of lawmakers had been grabbing snazzy jobs that should have gone to actual academics. House Speaker Ray Sansom was awarded a $110,000-a-year vice presidency at Northwest Florida State College in 2008 after he secured millions in extra state funds for the college (including a $6 million earmark for an “emergency operations center” that was actually meant to serve as an airplane hangar for one of Sansom’s major campaign contributors.)

And there was the $152,000 that Brevard Community College paid Sen. Mike Haridopolos back in 2003 to write a textbook-quality “history of Florida politics.” Oddly, only one copy of the great book was ever published — 175 double-spaced typewritten pages that a reporter found secreted in some obscure corner of the college library years later. (Haridopolos, who was elected Senate president despite his ethical lapses, later wheedled himself into a $75,000-a-year part-time teaching job at the University of Florida.)

In 2008, even as Florida International University was cutting 38 positions, shutting down six research centers and eliminating 23 degree programs, the school managed to fund a $69,000 teaching job for a former state senator named Marco Rubio.

So many of these ethically questionable intrusions by pols into academia were reported that our brave state senator from St. Augustine felt duty-bound to fix this mess (though his bill never reached a full Senate vote.) “There just seems to be a proliferation of these,” he told reporters in 2012. “It’s been a subject of a lot of concern.”

Two years later, it still is. As evidenced this week when Florida State University’s trustees went through a long and embarrassing sham process to pick a politician-turned-lobbyist-turned politician as FSU’s president.

That would be the very same, no longer so brave senator from Jacksonville. Sen. John Thrasher who tried so hard in 2012 to keep term-limited pols from using the state higher education system as a retirement plan, will swap his Senate seat for a half-million-bucks-a-year gig as FSU president.

The pick had not been the stuff of high drama. Thrasher had been the inevitable choice to succeed departing President Eric Barron since last spring. Everyone knew the fix was in.

The term “sham,” describing the process, didn’t originate with me. That came from Bill Funk, the consultant hired by FSU’s trustees to round up candidates to replace Barron. But Funk emailed a trustee last spring that it was a waste of time trying to find highly qualified applicants when everyone knew that it was Thrasher’s job for the asking. “It is my strongly held view that the opportunity for any real competitive process involving John has long passed,” Funk wrote. “To concoct a ‘competitive process’ from this truly weak field of active candidates would now be a sham ... and would be roundly seen as such.”

When Funk suggested simply interviewing Thrasher first and dispensing with the faux candidates, howls of protests caused him to quit the assignment last June. The trustees then went ahead with the pretense that some other candidate, perhaps with solid academic credentials, just might get chosen. Not that anybody was much fooled.

Meanwhile, the FSU faculty senate passed a resolution noting that Thrasher “lacks the stated qualifications required for the position.” Professors and students were also bothered that the senator offered only vague non-answers when asked about evolution or climate change.

Not that any of that mattered. “They wasted the academic candidates’ time, they wasted the time of all of the faculty, students, and staff who attended the meetings and forums, they wasted taxpayer money, and in the process gave the university a permanent black eye,” Jennifer M. Proffitt, president of the FSU chapter of United Faculty of Florida, told me via email Wednesday evening.

That was because Thrasher himself had the one all-important credential that none of his academic rivals could match. He was chairman of Rick Scott’s reelection campaign. The trustees voted 11-2 Tuesday to give the 70-year-old retiring senator a first rate golden parachute.

If only the state had paid more attention, back in 2012, to that brave senator from St. Augustine.

Read more here:

1 comment:

Christopher Kennard said...

I am quite happy that none of my children go to FSU . . . .

I would not be surprised to see a huge exodus of faculty and students this coming year, although I personally hope that the faculty will stay in place and work hard to "depose" King Thrasher from his ill-gotten retirement throne to be paid for at great cost by all Florida tax-payers as well as anyone connected with FSU.