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Florida's wild ones get ready to steamroll

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MELONE
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By MARY JO MELONE

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 6, 2001


If it were in the power of the state Legislature, we would soon be seeing a mandated return to pegged pants, poodle skirts and leaded gasoline.

Luckily, though, the Legislature cannot stick its nose into our closets and fuel tanks.

So the Republicans intend to mess with everything else that moved Florida out of the '50s.

They start today, when the new session begins in Tallahassee, and newbie lawmaker after newbie lawmaker follows the leadership in lockstep. Leadership in this context is a highly relative term.

There's House Speaker Tom Take-No-Prisoners Feeney, who got his lessons in political civility from Newt Gingrich, and Senate President John McKay, who needs lessons in personal civility. Twice, cops have been called over disputes between McKay and his wives, both No. 1 and No. 2.

This crowd is seriously weird. Even victory leaves them sore.

Because the state Supreme Court sided with Al Gore, the Republicans want to take down every Supreme Court justice who offends them.

It also turns out that they don't think the state is ugly enough.

So the Legislature is preparing to trash the state's growth management laws.

And they just can't get enough of punishing the poor.

So they want to take chunks out of the Healthy Start program that gives medical care to pregnant women among the working poor.

They're doing this in the name of the state's latest budget crisis.

What? You didn't know Florida had a budget crisis?

That's why the Republicans want to cut the tax on the income Floridians make from stocks, bonds and other investments.

This is government of them-that's-got, for them-that's-got, by them-that's-got.

There is nothing Florida so lacks in its politics as imagination. I could have said all this last year, and the year before, the year before that, and so on.

It was no accident that Al Gore and George Bush so utterly divided the presidential vote. Yet no matter how moderate the rest of us are, the quality of life in this state is decided by a bunch of extremists who answer only to the lobbyists with enough cash to buy an audience.

The only exception to this rule may be the president's younger, and smarter, brother, the governor.

Where is Jeb? Is he not big enough, strong enough to rein in the hard heads in the House and Senate? Or is he too interested in keeping the far right fat and happy, for his own sake?

Please, please, please do not bother me with your messages about how I'm a tool of the conspiracy between journalism and the Democrats.

I wouldn't mind the Republicans if they weren't inclined to such unabated meanness.

Why would anybody reasonable want to throw out the growth management laws?

Why would anybody reasonable launch an all-out attack on the state Supreme Court (and for good measure, the state's system of appellate courts)?

Why would anybody reasonable want to make life harder for people at the bottom of the barrel, people who work the jobs that made Florida attractive for big business, jobs so lousy that even big business has become embarrassed by them?

If I knew the answers to these questions, I would also be able to explain why the Board of Regents is being disbanded over the protests of academics and researchers at state universities from Tallahassee to Miami.

This much I do know. Why the rest of the country calls this state Flori-duh.

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