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It's good riddance to 2000 Legislature

By LUCY MORGAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 27, 2000


Tallahassee's air suddenly seems cleaner. The traffic is better. People are smiling all around us. The Legislature is gone.

Some of them have gone for good, taken out by term limits that will keep them from running again this year.

We are sorry to see some of them go away, but we are glad to be rid of those whose ugly, mean-spirited rhetoric marred the 2000 session.

Stay in Ocala, George Albright. We have seen enough of you in Tallahassee. Call yourself the Secretary of Barbecue if you like, but leave the state's environmental laws alone. Your scorched earth method of dealing with everything this year left a bad taste in everyone's mouth.

And keep Sen. George Kirkpatrick, R-Gainesville, and his longstanding hostility to the environment lodged in a tree surrounded by water. Maybe he'll learn to love the tree.

We are not likely to miss the legislators who have used their positions to feather their nests with future jobs or appropriations that benefit their friends and family.

And if it's all the same, we are not sobbing over the loss of a few who spend more time talking than thinking.

There will still be enough of those around. In the Senate, Sens. Anna Cowin, R-Leesburg, and Kendrick Meek, D-Miami, won the "I'm talking and I can't shut up" T-shirt award this year. Senate President Toni Jennings made a few jokes about it, but it was no joke to have to sit there and listen to them.

Cowin and Meek could be rambling on again next year. Meek doesn't face re-election until 2002. Cowin is running again, but she faces tough opposition from Rep. Everett Kelly, R-Tavares. Kelly is a veteran legislator who says little but has a lot of friends in leadership positions.

The Cowin-Kelly race could easily become one of the most bitter on the ballot. But they won't be alone. House members are opposing each other in a dozen Senate races.

We can't be sure we'll get a better crop in November, but we will at least be rid of a few who have grown too cozy with bureaucrats. Hopefully they won't all be drawing a salary at your expense.

Our election process virtually guarantees that all of the new legislators will be either pro-business or pro-trial lawyer unless some neutral person drops out of the sky.

The trial lawyers and the business lobbyists are carefully screening candidates, interviewing them and dumping loads of money into their coffers lest we elect someone who isn't firmly under the control of a special interest.

Some House members -- 19 at last count -- are off and running in hopes of claiming a Senate seat. After they carve each other up in the campaigns to come, 11 former House members are likely to claim seats in the Senate. We can only hope they have learned something in this brutal, negative session that made so many people display their worst characteristics.

Nasty, rude behavior makes easy news stories but offers voters the absolutely worst view of public officials.

We are still trying to figure out what they did to us in this final session. So many unrelated bills were strung together in the final deceptive moments, it is difficult to tell what passed and what failed.

A bill intended to reorganize the secretary of state does far more. It dabbles into bingo, international policy institutes at state universities, petroleum marketing, ethics, condominium law, mobile homes -- things that have no relation to each other or the secretary of state.

It is the worst way to make law. Deceptive, secret, scheming and in many cases highly unprincipled.

In 1996 when Republicans won control of the Legislature, they promised to stop the "trains," the legislative term used to describe the bills that collected substantial amendments slimed on by lobbyists in the final hours.

The promise evaporated this year, leaving only ugliness.

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