TALLAHASSEE — Here's a toast to the Florida Legislature, that perennially loathed lot that comes to work in this steamy, backwoods armpit of an otherwise scenic, celebrity-filled and entertainment-abundant megastate.
No one in their right mind would construct a state Capitol here today.
That's what outsiders think, those people who avoid Tally in the muggiest of summer months when no one can stomach the thought of hopscotching through airports to get here — unless they're a lobbyist, paid an ungodly sum of cash to put their contacts and campaign checks to work.
A Quinnipiac University poll last week found the Legislature's approval rating with voters resting at a lowly 32 percent — though not as bottomed-out as March, when only 25 percent of voters thought legislators were doing a good job. That was its lowest approval rating in the past decade.
So maybe it's apropos that such a collection of the unloved has to come to work in a town such as this, disproportionately populated by the equally unappreciated ranks of journalists, PR people, lawyers and lobbyists.
The point is, the people who live here year-round are a rare breed who relish — and feed off —political conflict. And even though it's summer — you can tell because so few college kids are in the bars — lawmakers have given us enough work to get our minds off the filthy heat.
Thanks to funky congressional and legislative district maps, a legal battle brought by the Fair Districts voting-rights groups will be raging all summer. Though a trial has been pushed back to winter, the trickle of new revelations from that fight — about lawmakers plotting with consultants to draw more-partisan districts — will be fun to watch.
Gov. Rick Scott has got to find himself a new lieutenant governor soon. As unpopular as it is being a legislator, apparently none of them wants that job. Scott needs to focus on someone who'll help his re-election next year, and he might turn to Orange County schools Superintendent Barbara Jenkins. Maybe he'll keep trying to woo Miami state Sen. Anitere Flores.
On that note, we should find out by the end of the summer what Democrats Charlie Crist and Alex Sink plan to do. Crist is universally expected to jump into the governor's race, and Sink — who narrowly lost to Scott in 2010 — is saying all the things you would expect of a future candidate.
Legislators passed new campaign-finance rules and higher $1,000 and $3,000 contribution limits. The reform eliminated "committees of continuous existence," but a glitch in the bill will prohibit contributions to their replacement soft-money political committees until November.
Medicaid expansion talk shows no sign of going away. Though a special session is unlikely, Democrats, businesses and even some Republicans are still searching for ways to grab some of the $51 billion in Obamacare federal funding that Florida will otherwise pass to other states.
Equality Florida is launching a campaign to try to unwind Florida's ban on same-sex marriage, now that it appears voters have shifted opinions since passing the ban in 2008. And environmental groups are pushing a constitutional amendment for 2014 that would ultimately devote more than $1 billion a year to land conservation and water protection.
But for the next five weeks, it's all going to happen without me.
I'm getting the heck out of Dodge — headed up North for summer schooling at the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research at the University of Michigan. But my ink-stained soul — and column — will be back in time for a lot of the festivities later this summer.
See you then, and thanks for reading.
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