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Written by Jack King - BT Contributor   
April 2013

There’s a reason the state capital is in Tallahassee

IPix_JackKing_4-13t’s that time of year when you might want to hold on to your wallet a little tighter. The Florida legislature is in session.

In spite of being run by conservative Republicans for the past few years, it always costs us money when they meet. Plus we always get the usual crazies acting out. They think we’ll never find out about it because Tallahassee is so far away.

How far away? Well, one-third of Florida’s population is more than an eight-hour drive from the capital and another third are more than four hours away -- and that’s a problem. Studies have shown that the farther away a state capital is from population centers, the more apt the legislature and civil servants are to misbehave. They do that well and often in Tallahassee.

So how in the hell did we get Tallahassee as our capital? It began more than 150 years ago, when the two major towns in Florida were Pensacola and St. Augustine. Tallahassee was right in the middle. It was the unofficial capital of the Cotton Belt and a center for the slave trade.

In 1845 you could go there with a sack of money and buy all the slaves you wanted. Now you can go to Tallahassee with a sack of money and buy all the legislators you want. Some things just never change.

A lot has happened in Tallahassee since 1845, but that’s a story for another column -- or a ten-volume history of Florida -- so let’s fast forward to 2012. Enter Gov. Rick Scott. He arrived on the scene after his health-management company paid a $1.6 billion fine for ripping off the federal government via Medicare fraud. Not to worry. He had enough money stashed away to spend $70 million getting himself elected governor.

His tenure has been marked by blustery comments that scared even Republican stalwarts. Over time, he’s had to walk back nearly every one of them, prompting some to wonder if he was a graduate of Ringling’s Sarasota clown college.

Now, in response to many polls showing he has no chance of being re-elected, he’s shifted gears again. His most significant shift was first rejecting ObamaCare for Florida then reversing course and accepting the program. If you think Scott can’t get any worse, think again.

In a move that many thought was brilliant, he selected Jennifer Carroll as his lieutenant governor. She was young, former military, a legislator, female, and black. What could go wrong? Apparently lots.

Integrity Florida, a watchdog group, inspected her financial disclosure statements and found that her net worth was all over the map: $271,000 in 2004; $23 million in 2005; a staggering $202 million in 2006; then a freefall to $520,000 in 2007. No significant changes in assets and liabilities, and no explanation.

The craziness triggered closer examination, which revealed that she was involved with a nonprofit group called Allied Veterans of the World. Doesn’t sound bad, until you consider that it’s been a front for a string of Internet cafés (online gambling) that was funneling hundreds of millions of dollars to Allied, avoiding taxes and making it difficult for investigators to track the money, much of which was showered on Florida politicians and political parties. The nonprofit was actually spending less than two percent of its income on charitable causes.

Dozens of people have been arrested, nearly 50 strip-mall Internet cafés have been shuttered, Jennifer Carroll has resigned, and our pious legislators have been scrambling to return dirty money and outlaw the business. Thanks, governor. You’re doing a heck of a job, Scotty.

But Scott has done much more to make sure Florida remains a Third World state, especially when it comes to natural resources, available for plunder to whomever has the biggest sack of money. Regarding Big Sugar, the Eye on Miami blog’s Gimleteye said it best: “…The House is planning to undo years of federal litigation and negotiation that resulted in efforts to hold the Great Destroyers [Big Sugar] accountable. It’s a sad testimony to the power of the radical right that cast its spell, holding the state in a fog of amnesia.

“…Tallahassee is a bubble. It operates as an enclosed political sphere with its own oxygen -- money -- and its own laws. Government has never been more divorced from the people. The result is a state being turned into a ‘sacrifice zone’ for the radical right. Protecting the rights of polluters is a key agenda of the GOP. That is not, however, how it is pitched to citizens, voters, or to the media.

“These are ‘reasonable’ businessmen. These are ‘job creators.’ These are ‘men of faith.’ These qualities are etched in the marketing that pitched Rick Scott to the governor’s mansion and a host of telegenic young Republicans whose main aspiration is to…materialize on Fox News like Sen. Marco Rubio.”

Orlando doesn’t look so bad as the capital of Florida.

 

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