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COLUMN

Happytown

Photo: Mark Foley, License: N/A

Mark Foley


It was never going to matchthehanky drop of the explosive conclusion to last year's Florida legislative session – who can forget the tears of state clown,Senate President Mike Haridopolos, as he threw a tantrum in the face of brutish House Speaker Dean Cannon? – but during the March 9 midnight madness that wrapped up this year's session, spare handkerchiefs were used as surrender flags for a Republican party that had overreached both logic and reason. Both Cannon and Haridopolos are winding down their limited terms of service – that's right, our CannonHair™ dreams are dead now, sigh. Some argue that a fragility in the Florida Republican supermajority had been noticeable throughout the session largely because Governor Rick Scott is just about the least popular person in the world, but also because of a lack of conservative consensus in the wake of a redistricting nightmare for the Republican Senate. Pass the hankies!

The legislature did manage to pass a $70 billion budget that put most of the financial burden onto the shoulders of students, the poor and the middle class, while securing corporate tax cuts for the wealthy. Also, the trumped up smoke and rear-view mirrors of auto-insurance fraud resulted in a fairly sweet bailout for the well-fed auto insurance industry. Despite the appearance of tossing $1 billion to public education (after stripping schools of $1.3 billion the previous year), a number of bills designed to turn the schooling of our children into a profitable enterprise for carpetbaggers and Christians alike (more virtual schools, school prayer, an increased voucher program for charter schools) will find their way to the governor's desk. Predictably, an overhaul of legislative ethics will not be meeting them there.

Like most sessions, though, it's the bills that failed that serve as defining moments. Prison privatization was perhaps the governor's biggest loss, just one year after he tried to force the measure through in the state budget. The so-called parent-trigger bill, designed to allow parents to force the restructuring of failing public schools into idyllic (or, even worse) charter schools, was killed in the Senate. An attempt to "streamline" the foreclosure process by speeding it up at the peril of troubled homeowners died a quiet death, the casino bill failed and major attempts at restricting reproductive freedom were soundly refused. So, how did this all happen?

"Prison privatization set the tone for the rest of the session," says state Rep. Scott Randolph, D-Orlando. "Nobody thought that Rick Scott was popular enough to hurt them anymore."

State Rep. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, concurs, saying that for the first time (OK, it is only the governor's second year, but still) Scott had to play powerbroker on the Senate floor while Haridopolos floundered at leading his body.

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