Once upon a time, the Sunshine State lived up to its name, governmentally speaking. We had a governor who campaigned for constitutional amendments that established laws mandating financial disclosure, a code of ethics for public officials, public records and open meetings; and pushed and prodded the Legislature into passing meaningful environmental protection laws.
We had two U.S. Senators who were so united in their commitment to bring the same philosophy to Washington that they were nicknamed “the Sunshine Boys.”
We had a state legislature that did such an outstanding job of modernizing the legislative process and moving it out of smoke-filled rooms into the public eye that it was consistently rated one of the top two state legislatures in the nation.
We also had an elected secretary of state, who oversaw our elections system. An elected commissioner of education, who was responsible for our public schools. An elected comptroller, who functioned primarily as the state’s auditor general. And an elected state treasurer, who also served as insurance commissioner.
That was Then. This is Now:
In 2003, the secretary of state and education commissioner became appointed offices; and most of the duties of the comptroller and treasurer were combined into a single position, the Chief Financial Officer, which remains an elected office. The main exception: the extremely critical role of the insurance commissioner, which became an appointed position.
A legislature gradually taken over by right-wing conservatives has chipped away at public records and open meetings laws, passing exemption after exemption; excluding item after item; and setting fees for access to all kinds of documents that previously were available to people at no cost. They also have repealed, reversed or rewritten many of the environmental protection laws that were once the envy of the nation; and decimated or eliminated agencies dedicated to that purpose along the way.
Our U.S. Senators today are a moderate centrist and a Tea Party poster boy who’s running for president. Needless to say, they rarely agree on anything.
The man who now occupies the Governor’s Mansion on North Adams Street in Tallahassee is the mirror opposite of the governor who brought government in the sunshine to the Sunshine State. No more need be said about him, except that he has proven how dangerous it is to have a secretary of state, a commissioner of education, and an insurance commissioner who are appointed by the governor instead of being elected by the people.
Because the conservative-liberal tug-of-war has always been a part of Florida’s political history, it’s hard to tell whether Florida is at the tipping point. But one thing is for sure: the pendulum never stops, and in 2015, there’s good reason to believe it’s swung about as far to the extreme right as it can go.