|Larry Hawkins, photo by Miami Herald|
The passing of the late Miami-Dade county commissioner Larry Hawkins provides an opportunity to reflect on damage done to our democracy as a consequence of political manipulation outside the boundaries of ethical conduct.
The Miami Herald obituary of Larry Hawkins was straight down the line; without color or commentary.
Hawkins, a Democrat, came along at a time in Miami-Dade politics as the balance of power shifted from an earlier generation, roughly defined as white, Caucasian (cf. Steve Clark), to a Cuban-American one.
The corruption of the county commission could be defined by free Bahamian casino chips or condos with obscure title ownership or cash in paper bags, but if so, they have to be retrieved from the dustbin of history as rumor; rumor one repeats at risk. However.
Having observed and participated in some of the external manifestations of Larry Hawkins' involvements -- the Homestead Air Force Base fiasco in the mid 1990's and the Homestead Raceway debacle -- I feel on safe ground to offer the following.
Donald Trump was elected to the White House because enough voters in key electoral states believed that a bull-in-the-china shop could destroy business as usual separating taxpayers from their government. How does government end up failing taxpayers so thoroughly that voters would literally risk blowing it up?
On the one hand, it is true that there is an extraordinarily low level of understanding of civics, how power works, the role of checks and balances in the three branches of government, and the ideals of democracy. On the other hand, there are thousands of examples how democracy is deformed every day, in every corner of America, related to the organizing principle of political conduct in America today: money.
After Hurricane Andrew in 1992, Larry Hawkins saw a way to weld a popular outcry for redevelopment in the last rural section of Florida's most politically influential county with political service to Cuban American developers who, ever since the Bay of Pigs, voted Republican.
Why not give this military air base to private developers (without bidding) allied with the GOP to spur economic redevelopment? It started as a small plan; only a couple of hundred acres. The air base still needed to be transferred from federal ownership to the county, but once Hawkins and his Cuban-American cartel, called HABDI, saw how easily the small plan was approved by local government, they aimed to take thousands of acres. And not just the air base; if zoning codes could be flipped around, tens of thousands of acres of surrounding farmland could be easily converted to the economic engine of choice in Florida: suburban sprawl.
In 1993, Hawkins figured that the Homestead Air Force Base at the edge of Biscayne National Park could be used as a bargaining chip; a win-win scenario for everyone who had an interest in making boatloads of money out of the natural disaster and political profit to Democrats.
|President Bill Clinton, flanked by Larry Hawkins, left, and Howard Glicken, Democratic fundraiser|
Hawkins lost his district commission seat, under accusation of sexual misconduct, but he hung at the periphery as the air base drama unfolded. County commissioner Katy Sorenson, who battled for and won successive terms to District 8, became the visible leader of an effort to hold government accountable to its own laws.
|The late Arthur Teele, former chairman of the Miami-Dade County Commission, a Republican, opposed the Hawkins / HABDI plan|
Eventually and quietly, in 2002, the US Department of Defense brought the ignominious saga to an end. People moved on.
The Cuban American developers assembled from the board of directors of the Latin Builders Association, HABDI, might have lost a few million. Maybe not even that. Taxpayers, through the usurping of local government agencies, including the aviation department and the county attorney's office -- lost a lot. A real cost accounting was never performed or even demanded by the county commission, but likely involved tens of millions. In this case, the money obscures the end tragedy: a deformation of democracy.
The heart of this taxpayer and political disaster wasn't touched on, at all, by the Miami Herald obituary of Larry Hawkins, and that is too bad. History only counts, only matters, if it is told.
What Hawkins did in the case of the Homestead Air Force Base fiasco was to empower the notion that a key purpose of government is to be at war with itself.
It happens when corporations and private interests and agendas commandeer regulations and rules that are intended to protect the majority of people. In the case of the air base, those regulations and rules define what private developers can do to wetlands, to endangered species, to water quality, to traffic and infrastructure meant to protect peoples' quality of life.
The war by government against government has become a defining theme of our times, without any reasonable defense of the purpose of government to protect people. By empowering special interests to control the levers of government, voters are in fact collaborators in the subversion of democracy. It wasn't Larry Hawkins' fault, except that he saw political and economic opportunity and he pushed it hard.
By being at war with itself, government moves away from a purpose of service and honor to taxpayers to a tool of insiders and elites who dictate the weapons and terms of war with the public, with voters and taxpayers. That is not only happening in Florida today, it is a model that virtually defines the political logic of Florida governor Rick Scott and his designated successor, Agriculture Secretary Adam Putnam.
These lessons can be taught in a civics class, but they can also be served by lessons of history -- drawn from many examples of a subtropical paradise lost, one deep cut at a time.