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Jeb plays tiddlywinks with clams and books

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By HOWARD TROXLER, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published February 26, 2003

The governor knows best. He always knows best.

For instance, he knows more about inspecting clams than clam inspectors. He knows he wants to cut the department that oversees such matters from 54 to three. He knows that the people who complain are just "grumpy" because they are "outside their comfort zone."

The governor also knows Florida doesn't really need a state library. We'll shut the danged thing down, fire its staff and give away part of the collection down to some podunk private school in Fort Lauderdale. Anybody who complains is "not thinking outside the box."

What is this, a weird game of Simon Says? Is this some sort of bobblehead pastime where the kids on Jeb Bush's staff sit around trying to figure out the goofiest thing they can still say out loud with a straight face?

"Hey, let's fire all the shellfish inspectors!" one says. "That'll show those uppity voters for asking for smaller class sizes!"

"No, I got something better!" the other says. "Let's shut down their state library and throw the collections up in the air like a game of 52-Pickup!"

The budget director steps in. "Children, children!" she clucks her tongue genially. "Why not just do both?"

New state motto: "Florida: Liver Damage Isn't Really So Bad."

I had a bad clam once. Or maybe it was a mussel, I forget. I can testify that the governor is certainly right -- I spent at least a day and a half outside the "comfort zone," if you get the general idea, and I think you do.

"Florida: Who Needs A State Liberry?"

Honestly. There is something that Jeb Bush has lacked on his staff for too long now: The Crusty Old Friend. He needs a C.O.F., probably as general counsel, who could take him into a private room and call him a (bleeping) (bleep).

But, no. If the governor is petulant, the staff is petulant too. How unfair that the voters passed Amendment 9! They must be taught a lesson. If it takes smelly clams and throwing out Andrew Jackson's long johns, so be it.

Simon Says . . . say that the governor is always right!

No Dickensian caricature could produce words as sniveling as those of Ken Detzner, the fill-in secretary of state, who was assigned the duty of defending the library's destruction. The man would have served well at Alexandria. Detzner tackled the task with Ron Ziegler-esque zeal in a series of letters to the editor.

By scattering the state's collections, Detzner reasoned cheerfully, more Floridians than ever would have access to them.

"A single building in Tallahassee designated as a 'state library' does not improve access or utilize state resources efficiently," Detzner wrote.

I love the dismissive punctuation around "state library." You can almost see him making little quote marks in the air with his fingers, like the comedian Chris Farley used to on Saturday Night Live.

Remember, they first tried to pawn off the library on Florida State University, but FSU quite correctly objected that you can't run a library without resources, such as, you know, librarians. The contempt with which that profession has been treated in all this is astonishing. If I were a curator in a state museum, I would be getting worried. ("Ain't that stuff already cured by now?")

Fortunately, there is a voice of reason.

I am speaking of a man of moderation. A man of backbone, who is not a yes-man who is going to roll over for this kind of foolishness.

I am speaking, of course, of Johnnie Byrd.

The speaker of the Florida House of Representatives took a break from his traveling 14-man self-aggrandizement tour to announce that as far as the House is concerned, the library is going to stay.

In this regard, Byrd appears to be sincere about listening to the people, although it still remains somewhat a mystery as to how he got the idea the people also wanted him to have a staff of 13 public-relations people and a video crew. Maybe he misread the pulse that day.

Anyway, we're halfway home. Now, quick -- somebody find out if Johnnie Byrd likes clams.

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