On a day when former State House Speaker Marco Rubio announced his intentions to run for President of the United States as a candidate of the right, no better time exists to look at the behavior of the Florida Legislature. Since the late 1990’s Florida’s Legislature has drifted further and further from the mainstream of public opinion. Rubio is just one of several highly-partisan and ideological figures that have come from a legislature whose priorities are rewarding campaign contributors and scoring political points.
This legislative session TFS set out early on to cover things aggressively. Then we backed off and began focusing on political developments and other matters. Why? Quite frankly, we’ve seen this movie before — in my case I have been following session since 1995, and have worked in or around the process throughout most of that time. This session was so frustrating from the get-go, and after years of wasted energy and spinning my wheels, I opted to let go. Sure, I am following developments but writing about them seems counter-productive when so much else can be accomplished.
It is important that in the coming weeks, months and years, while progressives throughout Florida keep a focus on legislative activity, we organize on a grassroots level and try and impact the electoral process and the municipal and county level. Quite frankly the arrogance and insular nature of the legislature including many Democrats cannot be tolerated any longer. While this may sound like a surrender, it is a refocusing on what is important and where progressives can and will make a real difference.
Florida’s Republicans who have been a governing majority in both houses of the legislature for the last 18 years have some nice fluffy rhetoric about “big government”. Yet, the party which has become drunk on power have time and again proven to be hypocrites when it comes to this theory. They use it when they need to push back against “radical” ideas like caring for working-class Floridians and their health needs, or the expanding of social services. They have mimicked the segregationist Democrats of the 1950’s and 1960’s with their attempted use of “preemption” to undo what local governments who are more in touch with the people they govern have tried to promote progressive ideas.
The Republican hypocrisy and legislative overreach that has consistently on display in Tallahassee since the late 1990’s, has reached a new level this year in the State House, where Marco Rubio’s ally Richard Corcoran is calling the shots. Ideologically Corcoran and his allies are not conservatives but really special interest driven advocates of corporatism. They have turned Florida into a virtual oligarchy along the lines of what Vladimir Putin has created in Russia.
Republicans came to power in the late 1990’s with a single goal in mind – not to reduce the size of government but to “defund” the left. While in some cases defunding the left involves privatization such as private school “choice” to weaken the teacher’s unions, in others it involves the expansion of government. That is fine within the doctrine of an Oligarchy, because it is all about power.
Take tort reform for example. Upon gaining control of Congress in 1995, the Republicans quickly pushed Product Liability Reform and here in Florida they passed Tort Reform in 1998 which was vetoed by Governor Chiles, but passed in 1999 and enthusiastically signed by Governor Bush. Tort Reform and all its elements were considered the cornerstones of “defunding the left.”
Republicans often rail against “judicial overreach” and “legislating from the bench.” But thanks to Tort Reform, and then the 2003 passage of Medical Malpractice Reform the GOP and its Democratic allies put in place a mechanism in this state that violates the sanctity of juries and takes away proper judicial discretion from judges.
The political result of the various Tort reform measures has been two-fold –
1- Trial Lawyers have less disposable money to give to Democrats
2- Professionally, Trial Lawyers have less money and get less in the way of rewards to take risks in doing research for cases that involve suing corporations or doctors. The result has been fewer landmark lawsuits in Florida on these issues. The ultimate losers are consumers and patients.
A net result is that corporations have more leeway to design and market faulty products and less incentive to emphasize workplace safety than ever before. Average citizens of the state have less recourse against large companies now than ever before.
The Republicans often talk about taking risks and entrepreneurship . However those tenets and the free market itself do not apply to personal injury cases, product liability cases or medical malpractice cases. It’s not mystery why – a simple look at who has funded the GOP in Florida especially since the 1980’s finds insurance companies, large corporations, medical doctors and corporate attorneys among the list of top contributors.
Republican overreach and over-legislating also applies to the criminal justice system. Minimum sentencing standards have much like Tort Reform taken objectivity and discretion away from juries and judges and placed the power in the hands of the legislature.
It goes without saying that the GOP’s obsession with chipping away at the reproductive rights of Florida’s women goes against the smaller government mantra. It is also exceedingly sexist and misogynistic when a body comprised mostly of men, with the vast majority of its leadership is of the white male variety dictates to women throughout Florida what types of medical procedures they are allowed to undertake. But the Oligarchs have thrown in with the christian right, so these legislative measures are important to placating part of the electoral coalition Republicans have cobbled together.
Rubio, himself has advocated a foreign policy that is dangerous and could be considered “liberal interventionist” by most objective standards. Senator Rubio advocates policies which would see the United States mired in constant war, meddling in internal conflicts throughout the globe. The burden of these policies would fall on taxpayers leading to massive expansion of the government and federal deficits much like the 2003-2011 conflict in Iraq did. Oligarchs advocate a foreign policy which enriches a few defense contractors, and Rubio seems to be doing just that.
Senator Rubio learned these tricks of the trade as a leader in the Florida Legislature, on one hand advocating the outright repeal of the intangibles tax as he did in 2001, but the next year he led the fight along with Speaker Tom Feeney against the simplification of the tax code in the state which would have relieved the burden the sales tax places on working class Floridians.
Rubio’s hypocrisy is shared by those he served with and their successors in the legislature. If Republicans particularity in the House see an opportunity to expand the scope of government and crush local initiatives they do it. If they can concoct a way to help corporations while hurting Democrats they will. If they can exploit certain judicial decisions, while ignoring the 99% of rational decisions made by the court system they will.
Simply put, power corrupts and this Republican legislative majority has had a run in power governing this state similar to many third world dictatorships and the Soviet communists. In time, the arrogance, cronyism and hypocrisy of the Florida GOP has grown to Soviet-style levels.
Oligarchs are a more apt term to describe the House leadership than conservatives. Marco Rubio learned the tricks of the trade well and he now hopes to bring this unique brand of governance to the nation. For the good of the republic, we must all do our part to make sure he fails.